‘It’s easy’: Brazen drug deals at festival
It's less than three hours into one of Sydney's biggest dance music festivals this summer but it's obvious some of the 44,000 revellers have already been hitting it hard at home.
Paramedics swarm a young man passed out on a park bench, eventually helping him regain consciousness before stretchering him away to a waiting ambulance.
Just down the road at Sydney's Olympic Park on Saturday, security guards stroll up and down the queues of punters waiting to get into Festival X, locking eyes with revellers and almost daring them to misbehave.
But being watched didn't stop the hundreds of festival-goers from discreetly dumping their small, snap-lock bags - used to hold their capsules filled with MDMA - on the ground below.
Hundreds of the empty bags were spotted by news.com.au on the way to the entry, with some even dropping their snap-lock bags as they stopped off the train platform at Sydney Olympic Park.
Inside the entry building, where revellers wait to have their IDs and bags checked, lines of police wander around the crowds. Some with dogs, others just walking in lines of six to 10 observing.
But perhaps the most brazen of all were three young men who quickly and quietly did a deal just moments are leaving the entry hall.
As another line of six police officers strolled slowly past, the group of three huddled together behind a wall.
One reached into his small bag, clenching his fist around its contents.
The other boy grabbed cash from his pocket and the two shook hands, bumping fists and smiling.
Speaking to news.com.au after the apparent deal, the three laughed off suggestions they could've come close to being caught.
"It's easy," one said. "You've just gotta be discreet. I've had heaps of people already come up to me and ask if I'm selling."
Another young reveller told news.com.au he'd managed to find two MDMA caps for $40 each.
Two other men in their 30s said they'd been looking all day and asking around for drugs but had struggled to find anything to buy.
"It's hard here, I don't know why," one man said. "Usually it's super easy to spot guys in the crowd selling but I've asked at least 10 people and none of them are selling."
Other people - made evident by the used condoms littering the girls' bathroom - decided to bring the drugs in themselves.
But as is inevitable with Australia's music festivals, not all of Festival X's revellers managed to laugh off their illicit drug use.
As world-famous DJ Armin Van Buuren closed the festival with an hour-long, firework-filled set, news.com.au witnessed one man on the outskirts of the mosh drop to the ground.
In a matter of seconds, security guards rushed to the man, shining their torches in the air to signal paramedics and police.
Moments later, a group of paramedics were huddled around him, rolling him onto his side as he appeared to convulse.
As security guards shone their torches to help paramedics see what they were doing, a golf buggy with a stretcher attached rushed from behind the stage.
Before the song was over, the man had been loaded onto the buggy and driven behind the stage where a medical tent was.
Moments later, the same buggy was on the move again, no doubt driving him to a waiting ambulance.
Earlier that day, the same thing had happened at a different stage, where the same beat-heavy music masked the sounds of the paramedics yelling for people to get out of the way.
Often flanked by groups of police, the paramedics moved quickly, stabilising whoever had collapsed before moving them out of the hot, sweaty warehouses.
After a year-long push to introduce pill testing at NSW music festivals - and following a horrific 2018 summer festival season where six young people died from illicit drugs - police hoped things would change this year.
At Festival X - a new festival for Sydney said to replace the axed EDM festival Stereosonic - things did seem better.
Police praised the behaviour of festival-goers as "exceptional", only arresting four people for drug supply.
As part of a NSW Police trial, a further 13 people found with prohibited drugs were dealt with through Drug Criminal Infringement Notices and fined up to $400.
Inside the medical tents, 125 people were treated with 11 of those being taken to hospital.
Five people taken to hospital received high-level emergency care on site with drugs likely a factor in nine of the patients hospitalised.
One young reveller, who was taken to Concord Hospital in a critical condition, was stable by Sunday.
By yesterday afternoon, the five people rushed to hospital in worrying conditions had all been discharged from Concord Hospital.
But the tentative success story of Festival X wasn't repeated further south.
At Strawberry Fields, a festival on the NSW-Victorian border, one man died after reportedly ingesting a cocktail of drugs.
The 24-year-old man, believed to have taken a mix of GHB, cocaine and MDMA, went into cardiac arrest at the weekend, dying late Sunday night.
In a press conference on Sunday afternoon, NSW Police Superintendent Jason Weinstein said the 24-year-old's death was "very heartbreaking for the family" but it was a reminder that our summer festival season could end in tragedy.
"All it takes is one pill to kill … If anyone is thinking of consuming an illegal substance it's really like playing Russian roulette; you're really loading a bullet into a gun and firing," he said.
Despite the death at Strawberry Fields, drug use was down.
"The quantities of prohibited drugs that we are locating is diminishing compared to previous festivals," he told reporters.
"Does drug taking still occur at these festivals? Yes, it does. And that's why NSW Police makes it known we're conducting operations in an attempt to deter drugs from entering and those who are intent on supplying those evil and destructive items - that's the reason why we're there.
"The quantity of drugs we are seizing on people and charging with supply at festivals is quite substantially lower than what was occurring.
"(At Festival X) our strongest seizure was 8.4g of MDMA, which equated to about 40 to 50 pills. Whereas we saw many individuals last festival season in possession of 300-plus pills on any one occasion."
Superintendent Weinstein said police had conducted more than 130 searches on people at Festival X - 31 of those were strip searches.