Leaked Police Memo Reveals What Was in Melbourne's Deadly Batch of MDMA
Australia has suffered a large number of MDMA related overdoses last month. Vice recently received a leaked police report from the Melbourne police detailing the deadly substances that are tainting the Aussie party scene.This article originally appeared on Vice
Back in January, a bad batch of MDMA killed three people in Melbourne and landed 20 others in hospital. It was the deadliest night for the city's club scene in recent memory. In the weeks since, authorities have failed to explain what actually happened, and why so many people were badly affected. Now it appears Victoria Police did test the drugs that caused the deaths, but neglected to make public their potentially lifesaving findings.
According to a safety memo obtained by VICE, which was circulated internally by Victoria Police's Drug Taskforce, police officers were warned about "the existence and rise of an illicit drug that has been seized in recent times." This was on January 27, 2017—a little over a week after the bad batch hit nightclubs on Chapel Street. The memo, clearly marked "not for public release," alerted officers that although the capsules in question appear to have been sold as MDMA, "the drug actually contains a cocktail of illicit substances, including 4-Fluoroamphetamine (4-FA) and 25C-NBOMe."
Both substances are dangerous: 4-FA is an amphetamine-type stimulant, which has been described as having an effect somewhere between amphetamine and MDMA. 25C-NBOMe is highly potent hallucinogen which induces intense effects even at low doses. Crucially, as the memo notes, even if users checked their drugs using conventional kits, they probably wouldn't have detected these two drugs. This has some harm minimisation advocates arguing that Victoria Police should've released their information to the public.
"The reason why [an MDMA cap containing] NBOMe is so dangerous is that if you do a reagent test, even if you're really careful about it, it'll tell you it's just MDMA," says Will Tregoning, the executive director of Unharm. Additionally, he says it's unusual that NBOMe was being sold as MDMA at all, especially in an international context.
NBOMe started showing up in Australian MDMA around 2012, according to warnings on online forums. It's a phenomenon unique to the Australian drug market, but Tregnoning has no idea why. He says he's spoken with academics overseas about the hallucinogen showing up in Australian caps and pills, all of whom have had a similar reaction. "They couldn't believe it was something people put into caps."
Tregnoning was also alarmed by the timeframe of the memo. "There's always that two week period of reporting when everyone is speculating about what the substance could be," he says. "[Victoria Police] have got top of the line [equipment in their laboratory], they could've done this analysis in 40 minutes… they could've released these reports in 24–48 hours."