Victorian coroner backs pill testing after inquest into deaths of four men and a boy

A Victorian coroner has backed pill testing after an inquest into the deaths of four men and a teenage boy who had taken what they thought was MDMA.

The five people died at separate gatherings across Melbourne between July 2016 and January 2017.

Jordan, James, Ilker and Jason – aged between 22 and 32 – and 17-year-old Anson thought they were taking MDMA and, in one case, magic mushrooms.

Instead they consumed a rare and lethal combination of a synthetic hallucinogenic, 25C-NBOMe, and a stimulant known as 4 Fluoroamphetamine.

The coroner, Paresa Spanos, wants Victoria’s health department to establish a program where people can submit samples of illegal substances to be analysed.

Spanos said such a service should operate alongside an early warning network alerting the public to dangerous drugs that may be in circulation.

“If we accept there are unlikely to be any major changes to drug regulation in the foreseeable future, or any changes in individual’s preparedness to use illicit drugs, Victorians will continue to be exposed to the risks of unregulated drug markets,” Spanos said in her inquest findings on Wednesday.

“There is broad support for a drug checking service and drug early warning network as evidence-based interventions, at least among those with knowledge and expertise in harm minimisation.”

Jordan, 22, was pronounced brain dead on Christmas morning in 2016, three days after losing consciousness at a friend’s house.

The next month James, 23, jumped off his Melbourne city balcony after taking the drugs and telling his friends “fuck this”.

Anson, 17, suffered seizures after taking the drugs with friends in July 2016 and died in hospital. Ilker, 32, died in similar circumstances about five months later.

Jason, 30, stopped breathing when he took drugs with his girlfriend in January 2017.

In its submission to the inquest the health department said there were no plans to trial pill testing at public events. Victoria police reiterated its opposition to the proposal, saying it could imply authorities condoned drug taking.

A parliamentary committee in 2018 recommended an early warning system for illicit drugs and pointed to the benefits of a testing service. Spanos noted that the Victorian government had not been receptive to these recommendations.

A New South Wales coroner in 2019 recommended the introduction of pill testing after six MDMA-related deaths at music festivals in that state. The Australian Capital Terriroty allowed consecutive trials at Canberra’s Groovin the Moo in 2017 and 2018.

But state premiers have continued to oppose pill testing.