Proof: Recreational Usage of Motion Sickness Medication is a Bad, Bad Idea
When a young backpacker recently returned to her rented flat in Victoria Park, in Perth, she found an unbelievable scene. Her nine flatmates were strewn about in various states of paralysis. Even worse, she had no idea why.
When the young woman, who remains unnamed, dialled triple-0 for help it was in the nick of time. There’s no way of knowing for sure, but her flatmates may not have survived much longer.
As it was, several would need days to recover from what afflicted them. What was even crazier to learn was that they had all willingly inflicted themselves.
It turns out they all ingested a massive dose of hyoscine, a motion sickness medication, thinking it was cocaine. Hyoscine can function as a powerful date rape drug (amongst other things) in the wrong hands.
How it got into the backpacker’s hands and why they took it is almost crazier than the substance itself.
If the name hyoscine doesn’t ring a bell, scopolamine may. Pharmacists and alchemist derive the drug from the flower of the nightshade plant.
In 2007, Vice Magazine’s Ryan Duffy went underground in Columbia to research the street drug sold as The Devil’s Breath. What he found was a was a world where nefarious people used the drug to coerce unsuspecting victims into completing untoward tasks.
Properly dosed, under the influence of the drug, one does not lose all faculties, but the part of the brain that records events fades into a blackout. The dosed individual also becomes very susceptible to suggestion.
The craziest story Duffy talks about in the documentary is about a victim who woke to find his home empty of its contents. Upon investigation, he learned from the security guard that he had helped the thieves carry everything out himself.
He’d told the security guard it was okay but had no recollection of the night. That's the drug that this crew of backpackers took.
An Unmarked Package
The story begins like the intro to a bad joke... five French nationals, two Germans, one Italian and a Moroccan walked into a bar… except they didn’t walk into a bar.
The backpackers, all in their twenties, were at home around 9pm the night of the incident. To that point, there is some comfort in learning that they didn’t go out looking for the hyoscine, but it’s only some comfort.
As their story goes, a package arrived at their flat addressed to someone who didn't live there. Upon investigation, they found a bag of white power labelled “scoop,” likely a shorthand for Scopolamine.
Not realizing what they really had, the group decided to make proverbial lemonade with the lemons life had delivered to their front door.
Blazing past the small dosage needed for treating motion sickness, and well beyond the amount required to talk someone into emptying their apartment, the backpackers snorted the hyoscine like cocaine.
Within minutes they all lost the use of their faculties. They could not move their legs to run or raise their arms to dial for help, and it would have mattered if they could have. None of them could speak.
Depending on how much each of them dosed, they were either out cold or frozen in body spasms. That’s how their flatmate found them.
Should Have Died[caption id="attachment_7759" align="aligncenter" width="701"] Backpackers leaving RPH | abc.net.au[/caption]
When the nine twenty-something backpackers arrived at Royal Preston Hospital, their symptoms ranged from seizures, overheating and hallucinations to full paralysis.
It took a small train of ambulances to transport them all there. One onlooker described the scene to The West Australian about the arrival of the paramedics, as they ferried bodies out of the house.
“It was carnage ... some of them were strapped to the stretchers and were totally unconscious. Two other guys were fitting and flailing around with their arms and legs and pulling strange faces.”
Arriving at the RPH, the ambulances delivered the train of patients to the hospital’s ICU. The account from the on-staff physician, Dr David McCutcheon, says it best.
“They were brought to us in a state of agitated delirium. They were hallucinating, their hearts were racing, several of them had to be put in a medically induced coma for their own protection…”
McCutcheon added that “Several of these people would have died I’m pretty sure without medical intervention…” Not to spoil the ending, but nobody died.
Waking Up[caption id="attachment_7760" align="aligncenter" width="701"] One of the backpackers hides his face | abc.net.au[/caption]
After the three placed on induced coma woke up five days later, the adventurous partiers issued an apology to Australia and promised to pay all their medical costs themselves.
“Of course we have to pay for the mistake,” said one of the men according to the Daily Mail. “There's no point that the taxpayers have to pay for us. It is our mistake.”
Speaking on behalf of the group, the young man added, “It is the least we can do to thank the paramedics, police and hospital staff who saved us. Thank you to Australia...And, sorry again.”
In the world of narcotics and alcohol recovery, they talk about something called rock bottom, where one sinks so low there is nowhere to go but back up. It’s the darkest part of an addict or abuser’s cycle of usage.
One has to wonder how much darker than paralysis and coma it has to wake up these impressionable adventurers.
Thankfully nobody died in this crazy story. It’s as much a testament to luck as the competency of Australia’s medical professionals.
Had the backpackers' flatmate not returned when she did, who knows what would have happened. Still, Australia’s medical professionals were no slackers in this tale.
There’s an ambivalence with an outcome like this. On one hand, it says to the world, “No sweat, folks. Australia has your back when you visit.” On the other hand, it says, “You can almost die overdosing on unidentified drugs not addressed to you, and we’ll save you.”