In December last year, 19-year-old Stefan Woodward was rushed to hospital from Adelaide's Stereosonic after taking pills. He died later that afternoon. Tragically, this was the sixth such festival-death between December 2015 and November 2014.
Now, over this most recent weekend, a Hunter Valley teenager has died after a suspected reaction to synthetic cannabis. These are different drugs in different circumstances, but in each case, they were bought off someone willing to sell questionable gear. In a very black and white sense, someone was personally responsible.
We caught up with three Melbourne dealers to chat about the risks and ethics of what they do. Is it true that dealers never consider consequences?
Names throughout this article have been changed.
VICE: Hey Brandy, you sell pills and MDMA. Is their potential for harm something you think about?
Brandy: Yeah it's something I've given a lot of thought to, and especially recently. In fact, it was the issue that originally held me back from getting to into this line of work. So now I always keep that in mind when I'm buying, when I'm getting my supply.
How does that affect your buying?
I've just go through one guy who's been doing it for years and is quite reputable. He always tells me if it's MDA, MDMA, if it's been bought from Silk Road or sourced locally. There's good communication between us.
Let's say someone died. How would you feel?
It would definitely make me stop. It would affect my life trajectory from that point on, like it would anybody's.
Say a friend overdosed on your drugs. Nothing to do with the product, they just took too much. How would you feel?
To be completely honest with you, one of the first things I'd do for my own safety is to speak to someone who could help me out in that situation. I know that sounds a bit cold, but I'd also want to speak to the family. I'd want to see the family. I'd want to apologise. I'd want to do everything in my power to make it ok to them, and tell them I know it wouldn't be ok, because it wouldn't be like I took their son or daughter cliff jumping and there was a tragic accident. Quite plainly: I sold them drugs, and I don't think I'd be forgiven. That would be an awful feeling. I'd also do my best to show that I'm not some whacked-out crazy drug-dealing junky who lives in a dive, who sells dirty drugs for money.
Is that what most people think dealers are?
I believe there are drug dealers like that, but they're thin. I think they don't really last that long because when you're a drug dealer you have a face and you have a reputation. If you don't uphold that you either get bashed, killed, or stop dealing.
At the end of the day, those dealers that the media say are everywhere, killing our children, that's not true. Most dealers that I've met, and myself included, are just normal people.
Hi Lee. You sell coke, MDMA, and up until recently, ketamine. Do you worry that what you're selling could be dangerous?
Lee: My approach is to ensure that what I'm getting is as pure as it can be and I don't mess with it. If I'm ever suspicious of anything, I'll throw the stuff out. I understand there are risks involved with it. I try to minimise them, but I also understand there are risks every time I get in a car. Even Paracetamol is dangerous if not used properly.
But people can react badly to even the cleanest stuff. Let's assume someone ODs. What do you do next?
I would probably cry for a long time. Then I'd take whatever reaction I feel would be required by the circumstances.
What do you mean by required by the circumstances?
Well if I sold someone rat poison instead of MDMA and they died and it was obvious that I fucked up, then I think I would have to take it on the chin––meaning turn myself in. I've caused this. But I don't think I could live with myself if I did.
There's an idea that drug dealers don't give a shit about their customers. What do you think of that?
There are a lot of dealers out there who don't have the level of care they should. In my opinion that's anyone selling GHB, ice, or heroin.
Hey Jerry, what sort of drugs do you sell?
Jerry: Mainly just psychedelics like LSD and DMT. Also MDMA, which isn't a psychedelic.
Psychedelics can exacerbate a person's predisposition to mental illness. Is this something you worry about?
It's not something I'm concerned about. I see it as something someone is responsible for themselves. And it's not like I just go sell someone a trip of acid at a festival or a party. If it's someone's first time I talk to them about it first. But most people I sell to are experienced enough to know what they're in for. MDMA is a bit different, but that's something else entirely.
Yes, with MDMA the risk is more about taking too much, and the fact the ingredients vary so significantly. Is this something you worry about?
I'm not always confident, but to be frank I don't really see it as my problem either. People take all sorts of risks and they'll take them regardless.
A couple of times I haven't sold something to someone because they seemed in a bad place. I didn't see it as, I don't want to be responsible for this. It was more like hey, you shouldn't be doing this right now. The same thing I'd say to a friend.
Let's say the worse does happen and a customer dies. How would you respond?
Firstly, I'd be distressed by the fact they died, but honestly one of the biggest things I'd be feeling would be fear of being responsible. Within myself though, I don't think I'd feel guilty.
Would you keep selling?
I'd stop selling immediately. I don't think it would change my views on how I consider selling, but I wouldn't carry on. Aside from that, I'm not sure there's much I could do. It would be tragic and in a strange way, kind of frustrating.
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