POLICE are investigating whether a teenager who died at a Scottish music festival took a “legal high” drug used by two of his friends, who have been hospitalised.
Alex Heriot, 19, from the Portobello area of Edinburgh, died on Saturday night after collapsing next to the main stage at RockNess, near Inverness.
Two friends who were in the same group as Mr Heriot – and had taken the drug Benzo Fury, which is sold as “research chemicals” – became ill and taken to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. RockNess event commander Superintendent Stevie Mackay said: “Early indications are that the man may have consumed drugs and this is one of the lines of inquiry at this stage. A post-mortem will be carried out to determine the cause of death.”
On the last day of the event yesterday, police warned festival-goers not to take Benzo Fury – which is usually sold in pink pellets in packets marked “not for human consumption”.
Supt Mackay said: “We know these tablets are on site. So far, 144 people have been caught with drugs at the festival and have been reported to the procurator fiscal. But it is still a relatively small number compared to the numbers attending.”
Police also revealed a 19-year-old woman and a 20-year-old man who were in the same group as Mr Heriot had both been hospitalised and were known to have taken Benzo Fury, a chemical compound also known as “6APB” which has similar effects to the drug ecstasy.
Supt Mackay added: “Taking drugs or any medicines, which you have not been prescribed, is an extremely risky thing to do. People may think that legal highs are safe, because they are not classed as a controlled drug, but they are extremely dangerous.
“If anyone has the tablets described or any other drug, whether controlled or a ‘legal high’, in their possession, they are advised not to take them and to hand these in.”
Mr Heriot’s friends shared news of his death on Twitter yesterday. Sophie Bubbles wrote: “We weren’t blood family, but you are still part of my family. Bye buddy.”
Kerri Mackay wrote: “My friend Alex Heriot died at RockNess.” Martha Ryan wrote: “I don’t know why it’s always the young ones. RIP.”
On a website believed to be his, Mr Heriot had written: “To say I am excited for RockNess 2012 is an absolute understatement.”
Benzo Fury can be bought wholesale over the internet and usually sells for £10 a pill, or £25 for three.
Experts said the drug had been available for a couple of years. Although genuine 6APB is not known for causing adverse reactions, street versions of the drug have emerged that may have been mixed with other, potentially more dangerous, substances. The owner of an Edinburgh shop that sells legal drugs and paraphernalia to over-18s said he feared the legal highs sold by some dealers could be cut with other ingredients, making them less safe.
The trader, who did not want to be identified, said it was known that the main ingredient, 6APB, was sometimes sold as a powder and could be combined with other unidentified chemicals.
“You should be aware that Benzo Fury is not always what it pertains to be,” he said. “There have been versions going round that are not proper 6APB.”
He added that all authentic Benzo Fury was labelled “100 per cent 6APB” and says “not for human consumption” on the packaging.
He compared the effects of the legal high with that of MDMA, better known as the dance drug ecstasy, but added that he was not aware that the drug in its pure form was particularly addictive.
“It does not give you the idea that you could OD on it,” he said. “I have never had anybody taking multiples of it. I have not heard of any adverse effects. I am very surprised to hear that it has caused these kind of reactions.”
The drug can be bought in bulk on the internet, but the shopkeeper said buyers should be cautious.
He added: “You can’t trust people selling this. You cannot just look it up online and guarantee what you are getting. You may be given a sample of something, but be sold a kilo of something else. We always check what we are getting.
“I have heard of people buying stuff which pertains to be 6APB and complained that it has kept them awake for three days. It should not do this.”
The drug is said give users a mellow, loved-up sensation. Few adverse effects have been reported, although it is believed it can cause vomiting the next day, aching limbs and a stiff jaw.
Public health consultant Dr Cameron Stark said: “Our advice is simple: limit how much alcohol you drink, and don’t take non prescribed drugs.
“If however you have taken non-prescribed drugs including ‘legal highs’, it is really important that you don’t combine them with alcohol.
“If you feel unwell or you are worried about a friend, please get immediate advice from the on-site medical team.”
Festival organiser Jim King said: “What should be very clear from this information is that legal highs does not mean safe, and customers should not go anywhere near these dangerous substances. Festival-goers should heed the advice given to them by the health professionals and the police, and stay safe by avoiding drugs of any kind.”
Harry Shapiro, director of communications for the national charity Drugscope, said young people buying the drug from dealers had no way of knowing for sure what they were taking.
He added: “People should not assume that ‘legal’ equals safe. Anyone buying these sort of drugs at a festival or club really does not have a clue what they are buying.”
He said it would be wrong to assume that Benzo Fury in its pure form as 6APB had been the cause of death before a post mortem.
Although he had never heard of any deaths related to the drug, he added: “This drug has an effect similar to amphetamines and because these are stimulants they can impact on the heart and blood pressure. If someone had a heart condition this would be a drug to avoid.”
He added that it was difficult for the law to keep up with new legal high drugs because even if they are banned they can be quickly reinvented and repackaged under different names by opportunist dealers.
As well as being sold in drug paraphernalia shops, known as “head shops”, legal highs are easily available over the internet, where they can be ordered in bulk and paid for using credit cards.