Image: Georgina Bartter (via Facebook)
An ectasy tablet known as ‘Purple Speaker’ may have been responsible for the death of 19-year-old Georgina Bartter at a Sydney music festival on Saturday.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, police have been informed by a number of Harbourlife’s revellers that the purple pill was being sold throughout the festival.
Detectives are now planning to investigate the various drugs they seized during a raid on the festival, which resulted in over 70 arrests. However, the exact substance Ms Bartter consumed before she collapsed won’t be known until toxicology test results are released.
We previously reported:
What should have been a carefree, sun-soaked day out on Sydney Harbour has ended in heartbreak for the friends and family of a 19-year-old woman.
Georgina Bartter from Sydney’s north shore was at the Harbourlife music festival on Saturday when she collapsed on the dance floor just after 4pm. Ms Bartter’s friends tell The Daily Mail she started shivering “as if she was getting cold” before she collapsed, and then began convulsing. After a bystander raised the alarm with police and paramedics on the scene, the accounting student was rushed to St Vincent’s Hospital, where she died of multiple organ failure on Saturday night.
According to police statements, Ms Bartter had taken one and a half pills that contained a combination of drugs; reports today suggest ecstasy may have been implicated.
Ms Bartter’s friends and family are understandably devastated by their loss. Her family have released a statement, reading: “She was a beautiful and vibrant young woman, who was much loved and will be sadly missed … She had allergies, and it [taking drugs] was extremely out of character.”
Tragically, Ms Bartter isn't the first young woman to make headlines for a drug-related death. For many, this weekend's sad news revives the memory of Anna Wood, who collapsed into a coma after taking an ecstasy tablet at a rave in 1995 - eerily, the same year Georgina Bartter was born. In the wake of their 15-year-old daughter's death, the Wood family launched a campaign to educate young people about the dangers of drug use and released the book Anna's Story.
According to the most recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were 1427 overdose deaths recorded nationally in 2012.
While the substances Ms Bartter ingested on Saturday won't be confirmed until autopsy results are released, her death is a cruel reminder of the risks inherent in illicit drug use. A major problem is the fact there's no way of knowing exactly what's in a pill, even if it's sold under a recognisable name like ecstasy - and chemical concentrations can change from one tablet to the next.
"Young women, young men, they want to know the contents of everything that they eat, they'll look at food labels, they'll look at cosmetics, they're very particular about things, yet some of them ... turned up [at Harbourlife] with the intent to consume some of those products. They have no idea what's contained in them," Superintendent Mark Walton, commander of Sydney City Command, tells the Sydney Morning Herald.
This is what led to the death of another Sydney woman, Annabel Catt, at the Good Vibrations festival in February 2007. The 20-year-old dance teacher had purchased what she thought was an ecstasy tablet from a friend. However, unbeknownst to Ms Catt, the pill been laced with paramethoxyamphetamine (PMA), a toxic hallucinogenic substance that's often used as a substitute for MDMA.
Professor Steve Allsop, Director of the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University, says there are three main factors that influence the effect an illegal substance can have on the person taking it. One is the individual, and the vulnerabilities unique to them - for instance, their sex, age or underlying health conditions they may or may not be aware of; another is the drug itself - its pharmacology, how often it's used, its effects; and third is the environment the drug is taken in.
So while you might observe someone else using drugs and not experiencing adverse side effects, that doesn't mean it'll be the same for you. For instance, Professor Allsop explains, MDMA - the substance 'pure' ecstasy tablets are expected to be made of - can wreak havoc with body temperature, and the cardiovascular and thermoregulation systems. The outcome can be worse for certain people or in certain environments.
"If you’re at risk of cardiovascular problems - and if you’re young you probably don’t even know that - and you take a drug that messes with your cardiovascular system, there’s a greater risk," he tells The Glow.
"Or, if [the pill] is taken in a context where the ambient temperature is hot - say you're in a nightclub and you take a drug that messes with your thermoregulation system and increases body temperature, one consequence is you may end up with a very, very hot body temperature. Essentially you can 'burn up' your muscles and organs, and end up with organ failure."
Then, if a pill contains 'adulterants' like PMA or paracetamol - or other substances have been taken alongside it - there can be additional risks. For example, PMA tends to have a slower onset speed than other drugs; as a result, a user might take more of it because they don't feel the effects as quickly as expected.
Interestingly, Professor Allsop points out that young people can start taking drugs because they think the behaviour is more common than it actually is. "What we find is many young people overestimate how many of their friends use and how much they use. Then they live up to that myth," he says. "While there are a number of young people who use drugs and get into difficulty, the majority don’t. Around 3% of the population use ecstasy – therefore 97% don't, or haven’t in the past year."
According to The Australian, 78 people were arrested for drug offences during the police raid at Harbourlife, which was attended by around 5000 revellers over the weekend. In the wake of Ms Bartter's death Harbourlife's organisers, Fuzzy Events, have shared a statement on their Facebook page: "Right now our thoughts are with her family – we can hardly imagine the pain and heartbreak they must be feeling, and they have our deepest sympathy."
Professor Allsop says an important takeaway from this kind of tragedy is the need for young people to "look after their mates" when they get into trouble, despite the perceived consequences.
"The simplest way to avoid the risk [associated with drugs] is not to take them. But if you do, and if you or someone else gets into difficulty, call for help immediately. The sooner you call for help, the better the odds they can help you," he says.
"Unfortunately, what tends to happen is that people think, ‘She’ll be right in half an hour’ or ‘I won’t call for help because I don’t want to get her in trouble’ – when in fact that person is in trouble."