Future Music Festival: drugs were not the cause of six deaths

Last year, six people died at Future Music Festival’s Asian edition, held in Malaysia. It was slammed as a drug overdose – meth, MDMA, whatever the media decided to call it, it instantly made national headlines, and let’s face it – it’s probably part of the reason FMF was cancelled. It certainly led to that particular festival, along with two others in Malaysia, being cancelled that year.

Now, news has surfaced that drugs weren’t actually the cause of death for those six people. It was heatstroke.

Despite police knowing this, they withheld the information, as they were now able to cite drugs as the primary grounds for cancelling these festivals and more, both in Malaysia and Singapore.

Before we even go further into the details, think about the impact this news will/has had on: the entire music festival scene in south Asia, Future Music Festival, the Malay police, the families and friends of those involved.

Yeah. It’s a big deal.

Pathologist Prof. Dr. K Nadesan, who treated three of the dead and nine more on the day, spoke to Malaysian newspaper The Star. While those who died tested positive for MDMA, it was far below the overdose level. “The autopsy and clinical findings were not on par with drug overdose,” he said. The police had no grounds to say it was. It was a wrong assumption.”

At the time, Kuala Lumpur police chief Datuk Mohmad Salleh has reported that the victims “who died were believed to have taken the drug methamphetamine before going to the concert,” concluding that an overdose was the cause of death.

An extremely humid climate with temperatures soaring above 35° is enough to cause heat exhaustion for anybody, let alone festivalgoers who are out and about, dancing and drinking throughout an entire day. One of the dead had a body temperature of 39°.

Furthermore, Dr Nadesan claims that this misinformation may have actually played a factor in the six deaths. Had the correct information been relayed to medics, they could have received correct treatment. “The impression created from the police announcement was that they had taken large doses of drugs. Even the clinicians at the trauma centre were under the impression that these people were heavily intoxicated with drugs and were treating them for overdose instead of heatstroke.”

FMF Asia organisers Livescape Asia took to Facebook to share a lengthy, informative post which explains that their requests for toxicology reports had been refused, that these deaths were the cause of a great dent in the local festival scene, and more.

I’d like to take this moment to point out two things about this news.

Firstly, fuck you, media. This is a classic case of trial by media (and police). The Malay police are largely at fault for failing to reveal autopsy reports, and the media is at fault for so blindly accepting this news without ANY actual proof. Sure, it seemed like the most likely option, but that doesn’t mean it was true. You needed to wait for medical results, and you didn’t. Now, the police have been able to purport these lies, with your help, to effectively shut down festivals and nightlife in the area, on the grounds of potential drug abuse.

Secondly, and more importantly, let’s not forget that the risks of drug overdoses at music festivals are, for many reasons, a huge, ongoing problem. This one case does not mean that people aren’t dying, it also doesn’t mean that overdoses and deaths aren’t happening.

There is still a growing number of deaths at music events every year, and that’s something that the entire community – including the police, medics, promoters, organisers AND punters need to take into account.

In some cases, drug detection dogs are a factor leading to drug overdoses at festivals. Punters may see a dog, panic, ingest however many drugs they have on them before entering the festival – this is (reportedly) how at least three people have died in New South Wales alone in the past two years. Check out Unharm for more information.
Heat exhaustion is a very real factor – not just in Asian climates but here, too. It’s important to stay hydrated, try to stay under shelter, wear plenty of sunscreen. DRINK LOTS AND LOTS OF WATER.

If you’re going to take drugs, don’t be an idiot about it. Don’t take five different types of pills. Don’t triple dump before midday. Don’t drink so much that you end up vomiting everywhere – in fact it’s best not to mix drugs and alcohol at the best of times, let alone at festivals. Do your research using extensive resources like Pillreports. Don’t by it off some dodgy street dealer – without the aid of home testing kits, combined with the decreased purity (and yet increased strength) of many street drugs, drug users need to be more vigilant than ever about what they’re taking, where they got it, and what’s actually in it.

The fact that these people died from a different cause from what we originally thought, is huge news. But, it doesn’t detract from the fact that music festivals have a remarkably high percentage of drug-related illness and death. We still need to be careful, aware, and responsible.

If you’re interested in learning more about drugs at music festivals, listen to a four-minute radio program I produced earlier this year, featuring interviews from peer educator and researcher Annie Bleeker, and head of the LGBT-focused Inner City legal Centre, based in Sydney’s Kings Cross, Dan Stubbs: