MICHAEL CARR-GREGG
MICHAEL CARR-GREGG

Parents must talk to primary school kids about drugs

It has happened again.

A teenager has died and 16 others were hospitalised following suspected drug overdoses at a dance music festival in Sydney's west on Saturday night.

I never met 19 year-old Callum Brosnan, from Baulkham Hills, whose short life ended in Concord Hospital around 4.30am. I can't begin to imagine the grief and shock that his family and friends are in but I do know that the death toll could have been higher.

At least three other people, two women, aged 19 and 25, and a man, were rushed to Westmead Hospital in a critical condition, but due to the prompt action of ambulance officers and the skills of an elite medical team by Sunday they had woken up from their induced comas and were no longer in danger.

But it didn't end there. Police reported that 13 other people were hospitalised and 130 sought medical treatment at the event.

Callum Brosnan died after a suspected drug overdose while attending the Knockout Games of Destiny dance party. Picture: Facebook
Callum Brosnan died after a suspected drug overdose while attending the Knockout Games of Destiny dance party. Picture: Facebook

Should we be surprised about this? Probably not, because according to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, when compared to European countries, Australia has the second highest total estimated consumption of the four most common stimulants: methamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA and amphetamine.

The 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that 20-29-year-olds are still over-represented in terms of illicit drug use when compared to other age groups above 14 years.

It was found that 7 per cent of people in their 20s had recently used ecstasy, 7 per cent had used cocaine and 5.5 per cent had used meth/amphetamines. A separate study found that 70 per cent of ecstasy users reported using ecstasy at clubs, festivals and dance parties.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has again ruled out pill testing, putting the heat on those running the festivals to make sure they're safe, and calling for harsher penalties and saying the "strongest message" for young people was to not take drugs.

Talking with young people about drugs can be challenging.

But the research says that having a relationship where the young people feel safe, valued and listened to, is a major protective factor along with meaningful, regular conversations about drugs and alcohol.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has ruled out pill testing at music events. Picture: Adam Yip
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has ruled out pill testing at music events. Picture: Adam Yip

So how might you start? Firstly, start young, don't leave it to high school. The final years of primary school represents a good time; look for teachable moments, after dinner, before bed, before school or on the way to or from school and share your attitudes, values and beliefs about illicit drugs.

Talking while driving somewhere is great, they are a captive audience and with less eye contact, they won't feel like they are being lectured.

Bear in mind that young people say that when it comes to drugs and alcohol, their parents are the most important influence.

That's why it's important to talk. By all means, talk about the negative effects of drugs and alcohol, clearly communicate that you would prefer them not to use because you would be worried about the short- and long-term effects drugs might have on their mental and physical health, safety and ability to make good choices.

Emphasise that experimenting with drugs adolescence is risky to their still-developing brain. If you want more information go to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation website which provides facts, resources and programs to prevent alcohol and other drug harm in Australian communities.

Well before kids start attending music festivals in their teens, talk to them about your attitudes and knowledge about illicit drugs. Picture: Michel van Rossum
Well before kids start attending music festivals in their teens, talk to them about your attitudes and knowledge about illicit drugs. Picture: Michel van Rossum

A good conversation starter is what happened on Saturday at the music festival. Ask them what their thoughts are.

Finally, if there is a history of addiction or alcoholism in your family, then the reality is that your teenager is at greater risk of developing a problem, so discussing this is responsible, just as you would with any disease.

Parents should know that having such discussions will not guarantee that your teenager will remain drug free or never experiment with illicit drugs. There are a variety of risk factors that stem from the individual, their family, their peers, the school they go to and the community they grow up in. In other words, it is complicated.

The NSW Premier is right to be cautious about ruled out pill testings there is still limited published evidence on the effectiveness of these programs in terms of changing people's behaviour.

However, a not for profit NGO called The Loop has provided pill testing at music festivals, clubs and other leisure events in the UK. The Loop analyses the ingredients and purity of certain substances.

They then use Twitter and relevant stakeholders at music festivals to get warning messages out if a particularly dangerous drug is found to be on sale.

It seems the Loop has had some success and the NSW government should keep an eye on their outcome evaluations and perhaps think about a trial. Perhaps if Callum Brosnan had been able to access such a service, he would still be here.

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg is a child and adolescent psychologist.



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