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Vancouver Police constable Ryan Campbell shows media the date rape drug GHB, on display including an assortment of drugs, cash and weapons by police at City Hall Friday. (GEOFF HOWE For The Globe and Mail)
Vancouver Police constable Ryan Campbell shows media the date rape drug GHB, on display including an assortment of drugs, cash and weapons by police at City Hall Friday. (GEOFF HOWE For The Globe and Mail)

Deaths at VELD festival shed light on party-drug scene Add to ...

A Toronto City Councillor says a 20-year-old concert goer who died over the weekend was “beautiful” and “exceptionally special.”

“She was a beautiful young woman in every sense of the word: intelligent, lively, vivacious, full of purpose. She had a strong desire to help people,” said Councillor Anthony Perruzza of Annie Truong-Le, a 20-year-old York University Student who interned in his office last year.

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Mr. Perruzza added he was “shocked” when he learned Monday night of her death, which police are investigating along with another victim who died after ingesting drugs at the VELD music festival.

“You’re just dumbfounded by the notion that somebody who has it all together and has a sense of purpose and wants to do things and is healthy and vibrant and full of life and young. You hear that they’ve passed away. It’s a shock.”

Media reports and messages on social media have identified the other person who died as 22-year-old Willard Amurao, though police have not released the identity of either of the two victims.

On Tuesday, Toronto police Detective Sergeant Peter Trimble said the cause of death of the two individuals is yet to be determined.

“There have been two postmortems completed on our two victims,” he said. “Neither victim had any anatomical cause of death and the cause of death right now is pending toxicology.”

Along with Ms. Truong-Le and Mr. Amurao, 13 other people were taken to hospital after ingesting drugs at the two-day electronic dance music festival. Police have since recovered two types of drugs – a small brown pill and a clear capsule with white powder – that were sold at the event and which the victims may have taken.

“Some [of the 13 people] remain in hospital. I understand they will all survive and make full recoveries and some have already been released,” Det. Sgt. Trimble said Tuesday.

“Some people were taking upwards of 10 pills, some people were picking up pills on the ground.”

Police are still asking for anyone who took photos or video at the event to upload them to the police website as the homicide squad is investigates the case.

Dr. Cristiana Stefan, Clinical Biochemist and Toxicologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said recreational or “party” drugs include stimulants such as MDMA, which is often sold in powder or tablet form and sometimes called Ecstasy or Molly.

Dr. Stefan said they’re popular at some concerts and parties because they’re intended to give the user a sense of euphoria, increased energy and a lack of inhibitions, but they come with serious risks. She said people can react to the drugs differently depending on their age, weight, the amount they take and what other drugs they combine it with, like alcohol.

“They [also] don’t know if they’re taking what they’re being told,” Dr. Stefan said. The pills could contain different amounts of the drug or contain different kinds of drugs altogether.

“Maybe it’s been combined with other drugs that have been added on purpose or simply are impurities from the process because these drugs are being fabricated in all sorts of illegal labs and the processes are different. These are not controlled processes.”

Risks could also arise if the user has a pre-existing condition they’re not aware of, Dr. Stefan said. If something goes awry, users could have delusions, paranoia, heart problems, vomiting or seizures, she said, and can die.

“It starts with, ‘let’s have a little fun,’ and it can be this, but it can end also in a tragedy,” Dr. Stefan said, adding there needs to be better awareness about the dangers party drugs can pose.

“No one should think for a single second to try these types of drugs, not even in tiny amounts.”

News of the deaths spread quickly on social media Monday and Tuesday, with some people who claimed to have attended the festival raising questions about security.

The founder and CEO of INK Entertainment, one of the organizers of the festival, said safety and security is the company’s number one concern.

“[The deaths were] health-related tragedies that sadden us deeply,” CEO Charles Khabouth said in a statement.

“We extend our heart-felt condolences to the families and friends of these individuals and will keep them in our prayers.”

With files from Sean Tepper

Follow on Twitter: @KaleighRogers

 

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