It took a long time but finally, the cat is out of the bag.
Drugs were not the cause of the deaths of the 6 people at Future Music Festival Asia (FMFA) last year.
Like everyone else, we were told that the FMFA 2014 deaths were due to drug overdose. This is because the authorities didn’t make the results publicly known. In fact, according to The Star, even the organiser had been kept in the dark over the cause of deaths of six people at the event. Livescape Group CEO Muhammad Iqbal said all information about the deaths had been through verbal communication with the police and requests to see toxicology reports of the victims were denied.
Like everyone else, they too were kept in the dark.
Over the past year, several major events in both Malaysia and Singapore were cancelled with the “serious concerns over drug abuse” excuse, such as “Life in Color” in April 2014, “FMFA15” in Singapore in March 2015, and the recent “Thirst 2015: We Are All Stardust” in April 2015. The tragedy cast a gloom over the Malaysian live events scene, particularly those that were linked to dance music, and the abrupt cancellations that followed undoubtedly cost organisers huge financial losses, the trust of the gungho ticket buyers, and above all, left thousands unhappy and weighed down by disappointment.
The repeated call for transparency and truth over the FMFA 2014 were unheeded. Without real solid proof, there was no fight for the organisers e.g. Livescape Group, Future Sound Asia.
However, according to an exclusive story by Nicholas Cheng of The Star, post-mortem results issued 2 months after the deaths showed the cause to be heatstroke, with drugs playing a negligible role.
In fact, a pathologist involved in the case said that 1 out of 16 revellers brought to hospital in critical condition did not even have any trace of illegal substance, contradicting police statements that all the deaths were linked to drugs. The impression created from the police announcement was that they had taken large doses of drugs, and it remained way for the past year despite the fact that several detailed reports correcting the police statements had been sent.
According to University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) forensic pathology department head Prof Dr K. Nadesan told The Star, “Generally, the police did not show much interest in the reports. Unfortunately, they made statements without proper scientific reasons, which is not the right way. They should have spoken to us and encouraged an inquest into the case because it is a matter of public interest to prevent similar incident.”
The 6 who died after the concert at the Bukit Jalil Stadium on 15th March last year were Kamal Zekry Kamal Basha, 22; Victor Wong E Hern, 26; Sabreena Kamaruddin, 21; M. Suresh, 28; Syazana Sohaime, 23; and Nor Faizza Mohd Wazir, 27.
Dr Nadesan said UMMC handled the post-mortem for 3 of the dead and also treated 9 others. He said those who died tested positive for ecstasy or MDMA, but it was much lower than the average recreational level of 0.1 to 0.25 microgram per millilitre. Autopsies on the “virtually dried up” bodies, including one which had a temperature of 39°C, led Dr Nadesan to rule the deaths as caused by heatstroke.
I was surprised because when I came in, 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 heatstroke. The autopsy and clinical findings were not on par with drug overdose. The police had no grounds to say it was. It was a wrong assumption.
It was also revealed that 2 of the 9 heatstroke victims had no traces of drugs in their system while the rest tested positive for MDMA, ketamine and morphine.
Dr Nadesan said that the conditions during the second day of the festival (ASOT 650), a combination of choking haze, high humidity and 35°C temperature were the main causes of the tragedy. He said the stadium where they were from 10am to 1am, without sufficient fluids and dancing for hours, provided the conditions for heatstroke.
Some of the victims, especially those who taken MDMA, became uninhibited and overexerted themselves physically, causing their bodies to lose control in regulating temperatures. The victims stopped sweating while their bodies experienced disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIVC) which causes internal haemorrhaging, blood clotting, and lower oxygen delivery to organs.
“This led to multiple organ failures, a shutdown of the body,” he said.
Dr Nadesan said the drugs might have in some small way contributed to the deaths but they were not the main cause. He felt the tragedy could have been averted had the organisers provided adequate access to water and information on how to stay healthy in the harsh weather.
On that note, Iqbal clarified to The Star that FMFA 2014 had sufficient measures in place to keep concert goers healthy and hydrated, refuting Dr Nadesan’s comment that there was lack of access to water during the festival. He said the festival had adhered to an international event organising standard under the Code of Practice and Event Management Guide, adding that the organiser also had 34 paramedics, 7 ambulances, and an onsite emergency trauma centre.
To add on, KL Criminal Investigation Department chief Senior Asst Comm Datuk Zainuddin Ahmad confirmed that the sudden death reports for the 6 had listed heatstroke as the cause. But Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Hospital (HUKM), which handled the autopsies for 3 other victims, declined to reveal the results.
Alas, after an entire year, the truth is finally out. But is anyone really listening, or rather, reading? Will this finally change the fate of live events in Malaysia? Can those who were previously none the wiser now shake off the impression that all music festivals/dance music events are linked to drug abuse?