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OPINIONSocietyDecember 2, 2020

What happened when I took a dodgy pill at Rhythm and Vines

This is a stock photo (Getty Images)
This is a stock photo (Getty Images)

Pill testing at music festivals is set to become law as legislation begins a rush through parliament in time for the start of festival season. It’s a change welcomed by Courtenay Chenery, who remembers how a rogue pill led to the most miserable New Year’s of her life.

“Hey Dad…I’m not feeling very well. I just want to make sure you and Mum know that I really love you. I’m going to hospital I think. I don’t feel good. Don’t worry about me, I love you.”

Leaving a delirious and panic-inducing message on my dad’s voicemail in the wee hours of 31 December 2012 was one of the lowest moments of my life. I was confused and sick, stuck in Gisborne at Rhythm and Vines at the sick bay tent with ice packed around my neck to try and bring my temperature down while the ambulance was on its way to get me.

For me, RnV 2012 started the same way as it had when I attended it the year before – a mammoth haul to get up from Christchurch on Boxing Day, and me diligently setting up the tent and inflating the air mattress while my friends, who were much cooler than me, got to know the boys who were camping next door. Just like the previous year we had planned to take a couple of ecstasy pills each over the duration of the event, so that’s what we did the first night: chopped up a tablet into three portions and took a bit each. The tablets were all different colours but the person who sold them to us promised they would give us a “good mellow high” or whatever nonsense phrase they tell kids when they buy drugs. I was a little dubious, but I wanted to have fun and was easily led so I happily bought a couple of pills and was expecting to dance every night until the wee hours.

It started going downhill fast on the night of the 30th. I was excited for Mark Ronson’s set that night – ‘Bang Bang Bang’ was one of my favourite songs at the time. My friends and I each took a pill. They had a great night, I did not. On my way to the festival I knew something was terribly wrong, I wasn’t having fun. I had taken ecstasy a couple of times before but this time felt different. Before even getting to the main stage, I turned around and went home. I didn’t sleep the whole night, feeling like my brain was going to explode. The girls came back and went to sleep, but I stayed awake and passed out late in the morning when they were already up and eating breakfast. I don’t remember much of New Year’s Eve. At some point one of my friends ran to get first aid; I was unresponsive and any time I came around I was delirious. I understand they took me to the first aid tent and I have some memories of telling the nurse what I’d taken and when, and then being loaded up into an ambulance.

Bringing in the New Year in Gisborne Hospital wasn’t in my plan, but I’m incredibly thankful for the team working that night. The nurse who patted my hand and encouraged me to take “just a small bite” of a sandwich in the morning was incredibly patient and caring, even though the department was heaving with people. I spent the evening looking at the clock across the room and watching midnight tick nearer, slowly gaining a sense of where, and who, I was. To this day we have no idea what was in that pill; the doctor’s best guess was possibly methamphetamine.

The impact on my family that evening was huge. Because I was in no fit state to contact people, information was slow to filter out and my sister acted as a go-between for my friends and my parents. I still feel incredibly guilty for the stress I put everyone through and wish I could change it. Years later, following the death of a beloved cousin who was taken far too young, I would think about that night and feel an icy twist in my belly, knowing I could have easily put my family through a similar tragedy.

I know that I would have tested my pills if the option had been there, and if testing had shown the suspected methamphetamine I wouldn’t have taken it. Even though I was a dumb 21-year-old the “Not Even Once” campaign had stuck – I was willing to take a bit of ecstasy, but would draw the line at P or anything else.

I can’t pretend I’m not incredibly nervous to write this, almost 10 years after the fact. My extended family still don’t know that I was hospitalised for taking a dodgy pill at RnV, and I’m currently job seeking – I hope future employers don’t hold this against me too much.

That being said, I’m passionate about pill testing at festivals. While the National Party does not support the pill testing bill, I’m thankful to see it getting support from the likes of the Young Nats, ACT, Greens and Labour. We need to remember that people will be taking drugs at these festivals, whether or not Simon Bridges and other National MPs think they should, and making it safer is in the best interest for everyone.

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