Overheating and water intoxication at dance events...
Potentially deadly conditions associated with dance events are getting too hot and the over-consumption of water.
Two potentially fatal conditions which share an association with dance events are simply drinking too-much water (dilutional hyponatremia) and getting too hot (hyperthermia). Both conditions continue to claim lives but are largely ignored by politicians, police and the media, who prefer to incorrectly attribute the deaths to ecstasy use.
Water intoxication does not share an exclusive association with ecstasy consumption or dance events. It can occur without these two factors being involved.
In 1995, two young women lost their lives due to excessive water consumption after consuming ecstasy, with their deaths receiving widespread media attention in their respective countries. The women were Anna Wood from Australia and Leah Sarah Betts from England. Their deaths were determined to be solely the result of excessive water intake. Anna attended a dance event whereas Leah did not.
A danger for young people in the context of dance events and advice to remain 'hydrated', is dilutional hyponatremia or put simply, water intoxication. This is a condition where the blood level of sodium becomes too low and the brain consequently absorbs too much water due to an upset in the osmotic balance. The brain swells causing seizures and in the worst case scenario, can be irretrievably damaged, causing death.
Grossly excessive water intake can have fatal consequences. Image: Daria Shevtsova
Excessive intake of water can occur in the context of factors such as prolonged physical activity in a hot environment and/or advice to remain 'hydrated'. It is common for these deaths to be prematurely and incorrectly labeled as 'drug overdoses' or otherwise misattributed to ecstasy use.
We live in an age where advice to drink water when not thirsty is common. This advice may come from quasi-health or self-interested commercial sources. As is very relevant here, it may come from organisers of dance events as a proposed method of preventing heat stroke.
Whatever the source or intention behind the advice, the result of drinking too much water can be catastrophic. Common sense would suggest that it is prudent to drink water only when prompted by thirst.
A very real danger for those attending these events is simply getting too hot (hyperthermia). It is inevitable that events held in the summer with a combination of high temperatures and prolonged physical exertion, experience high numbers of attendees suffering from hyperthermia.
A combination of high ambient temperatures and prolonged and strenuous physical activity can lead to a cascading medical syndrome characterised by highly elevated body temperature and factors such as muscle death and blood clotting impairment, culminating in multi-organ failure and cardiovascular collapse. Without rapid and multi-faceted medical intervention, a situation such as this will likely result in death.
In the generally complete absence of honesty from government, authorities and media regarding the deaths of young people at dance events in the Australian summers of 2017 - 19, some brief case studies are provided here with contributing circumstances surrounding the deaths noted:
ALEX ROSS-KING (19 years). Alex had been dancing in extremely high ambient temperatures at an outdoor event. She had consumed alcohol, caffeine and ecstasy and a body temperature of 41 degrees has been reported.
NATHAN TRAN (18 years). Nathan was observed to run from security personnel, falling and striking his head on a concrete surface and suffering seizures. There are reports that he was forcibly restrained on the ground and possibly sedated. A body temperature of over 40 degrees has been reported.
CALLUM BROSNAN (19 years). Callum was dancing for hours at an indoor event and later collapsed at a railway station suffering seizures, with a reported body temperature of 41.9 degrees.
The common theme in these deaths is prolonged and strenuous physical activity in high ambient temperatures resulting in hyperthermia, often in the context of poly-substance use.
Regardless of the obvious contribution of hyperthermia, other non-drug related factors and the presence of other substances, these dance-event related incidents involving ecstasy are consistently and incorrectly portrayed by government related and media sources as being fundamentally due to MDMA.
The dominant public narrative surrounding the deaths examined by the coronial inquest in New South Wales involves the introduction of pill testing. The patently incorrect and mischievious inference here is that ecstasy was the primary causal agent in the deaths. Honest conversation about the obvious factor of holding these events in the Australian summer with the inherent risk of extreme heat and consequently hyperthermia, is almost completely absent.
It is inevitable that deaths involving even the mere suggestion of illicit drug use in the context of dance events, are immediately labeled as 'supected drug overdoses'. This is the phrase of choice in Australia, even though the actual cause of death is unknown at the time. Mainstream media quickly moves to implicate ecstasy or other illicit drugs, completely without evidential justification.
The phrase 'suspected drug overdose' is completely dishonest and meaningless and is crafted in order to facilitate the incorrect and unsubstantiated assertion that the death was due solely to illicit drugs. The aim here is to infer and implicate for cynical political and sensationalist purposes, without the slightest amount of evidence.
Politicians immediately act to make political 'mileage' from such misfortune:
They quickly and without evidence infer that the death is due to illicit drugs, thereby conveying the inference that the drugs posing the immediate threat to young people are those other than alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. This of course, is dangerously incorrect.
They use the deaths to justify 'drug policy' that is falsely portrayed as existing to protect the health and welfare of people. This policy involves the criminalisation of supply and possession of drugs other than alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. They do this whilst typically being in receipt of political donations from the alcohol industry, suppliers of the most dangerous drug for young people.
They sometimes use the incidents to justify increasing the criminal sanctions applicable to the supply of illicit drugs. This has the effect of reducing supply, which in turn increases the market price and consequently makes the trade more lucrative. This ensures the continued supply of the very substances governments dishonestly say they are trying to restrict.
They steadfastly refuse to acknowledge publicly the occurrence of deaths due to hyperthermia and hyponatremia for example, preferring to implicate ecstasy and other illicit substances. This makes it more likely that these incidents continue to occur due to lack of education and awareness.
Those politicians and advocacy groups portraying themselves as progressive and compassionate, continue to advocate for pill testing instead of demanding that supply be legal and regulated. These groups also remain noticeably silent regarding deaths related to hyperthermia and hyponatremia.
They are comprehensively silent about the dangers of holding these events in the summer, with the obvious attendant risk of hyperthermia. They are also silent regarding the sale of alcohol at the venues.
The responses of politicians are always founded on dishonesty and duplicity, even when the consequences can be dangerous and sometimes fatal to young people.
A common response from police before a cause of death can be ascertained, is to warn young people to avoid illicit drugs because the content and strength of the substances is unknown.
This is particularly ironic because a legal and regulated supply of drugs other than alcohol, tobacco and caffeine is prevented by law worldwide and police play a fundamental role in the process.
The responses of parents that have lost a child to hazards such as hyperthermia, hyponatremia or mixed-drug toxicity are typically directed in a totally counterproductive way as regards preventing further deaths:
Some parents involve themselves in 'anti drugs' campaigns, even though ecstasy or other illicit drugs were not the cause of their child's death
Typically, they will not publicly acknowledge the real cause of the misfortune, ironically making it more likely that such deaths continue to occur
It is natural that parents will search for something to blame for the loss of a child. In this case, scapegoating ecstasy and other illicit drugs serves this purpose admirably, but does nothing to constructively and honestly address the actual danger, which is many young people's lack of knowledge of the dangers of simply getting too hot, drinking too-much water or combining drug types.
Almost without exception, such parents refuse to acknowledge openly that many young people will inevitably use substances other than alcohol, tobacco and caffeine and that a legal and regulated supply of these drugs should be provided.
Real progress could be made to a safer and more equitable world in respect to the young and drugs other than alcohol, tobacco and caffeine, if affected parents had the courage to be openly honest about the real issues involved.
The response by many to deaths at dance events, regardless of the actual cause of death, invariably involves the introduction of pill testing. A cynical commercial opportunity is available with this response, but importantly, pill testing serves merely as a distraction to the fundamental issues affecting the welfare of young people at these events:
There should be no requirement for pill testing because all drugs should be supplied under the same regime as alcohol, tobacco and caffeine: a legal and regulated supply. Anything else is merely a human-rights abuse.
The act of pill testing does not prevent deaths due to hyperthermia, hyponatremia or multiple-drug toxicity
Pill testing aids those who seek to propagandise as to the cause of deaths at dance-related events, as it assists in communicating the incorrect assertion that incidents are all or predominately due to illicit drugs
Pill testing is an industry who's existence relies on the criminalisation of supply of substances other than alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. As such, it constitutes an industry which would be threatened by the introduction of a legal and regulated supply of the substances that constitute its work and income.
Pill testing is largely a convenient and cynical diversion to the real issues, which are the right of people to have a legal and regulated supply of their drug of choice and education regarding hazards such as hyperthermia, hyponatremia and multiple-drug toxicity.
Those charged with making and enforcing our laws, the media and others, continue to be completely dishonest and duplicitous when dealing with deaths and incidents in the context of dance events and the presence of illicit substances. Political gain and other forms of self-interest continue to take precedence over honest and responsible discourse and policy.