PERTH, Australia — Two Frenchmen were fighting for their lives on Friday after a mass drug overdose in an Australian household that sent nine European backpackers to a hospital.
The white powder that the nine snorted in Perth city on Tuesday has been identified as the common prescription medication hyoscine, which is used to treat various medical problems including travel sickness, Western Australia state health authorities said.
The two Frenchmen, ages 22 and 25, were in Royal Perth Hospital’s intensive care unit in critical condition, while a German woman was in an induced coma in a serious but stable condition, the state health department said.
The three and possibly more would have been dead if not for the swift actions of a resident who came home to the house in the state capital as the overdose was occurring Tuesday night and called for help, Royal Perth Hospital clinical toxicologist Jessamine Soderstrom said.
The other people affected — three French citizens, a German, Italian and Moroccan, ages 21 to 25 — have been released from the hospital.
Some were seen around the house again Wednesday and Thursday smiling and looking relaxed but declined to comment to the media.
The patients reacted violently after snorting a drug that they told authorities they thought was cocaine. They said it had arrived in the mail in a package addressed to someone who no longer lived at the shared house.
Neighbors speaking to media described a frightening scene in which seven men and two women delirious and with “glassy eyes” were wheeled out on stretchers to nine ambulances. One man behaved aggressively, punching at the air, they said.
The patients were paralyzed, unable to speak, hallucinating, in a state of agitated delirium, had racing hearts and overheating bodies, Royal Perth Hospital emergency doctor David McCutcheon said.
McCutcheon said it was too early to know if patients would have any permanent organ damage.
Hyoscine is known to be abused as a recreational drug but is considered highly dangerous. Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Budge said the investigation into the source of the drug was continuing.
The local municipal council is investigating whether landlords were illegally renting the house as an unlicensed backpacker hostel.