Potentially deadly substances hidden in drugs at Queensland music festival

10 Apr 2024

Wastewater analysis and an in-person survey conducted by researchers from The University of Queensland found high levels of drug use and risky behaviours, including ingesting unknown substances at a Queensland music festival. 

Dr Cheneal Puljevic from the School of Public Health said the research combined information collected from a survey with an analysis of wastewater collected from the festival.

“We were looking to understand people’s drug taking habits at a festival to see whether drugs that were reported matched what we found in the wastewater analysis,” she said.

“What we found was people at this festival reported a range of common drugs including cannabis, ketamine and MDMA.”

Dr Puljevic said the wastewater analysis detected all of these substances, but it also found substances like MDEA, mephedrone, methylone, 3-MMC, alpha-D2PV, etizolam, eutylone, and N,N-dimethylpentylone.

“These substances are used in drugs as adulterants, and some of these, like eutylone and N,N-dimethylpentylone, have been associated with deaths overseas,” she said.

“This indicates people in Queensland may be using very dangerous drugs without knowing it.”

Dr Puljevic said she was also surprised at other risky behaviours displayed by festivalgoers. 

“There were at least three people who were using about 10 different drugs over the four-day festival and there were a few people who reported using drugs they found on the ground.

“This is risky because, in the absence of drug checking services, those people don’t know what they’re taking.”

Dr Ben Tscharke from the Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences at UQ led the wastewater analysis for the paper.

“We collected samples from a treatment plant that the event toilets drained into,” Dr Tscharke said.  

“We found that festival-goers were using cocaine, ketamine, nicotine, cannabis, ecstasy, and alcohol at higher amounts than the general population, but were using methamphetamine and oxycodone at lower amounts.”

Dr Puljevic said given the risky behaviour displayed at the festival, the study provided insight into the importance of drug checking services.

“Our findings highlight the benefits of drug checking services to prevent harms from adulterants and provide education on safer drug use practices,” she said.

The study was funded by The Loop Australia and took place at the same music festival over 2021 and 2022.

Media contact

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