PERTH, Australia — Nine backpackers were rushed to a hospital after sorting a mystery white substance they thought was cocaine but left them suffering seizures, paralysis and hallucinations.
The seven men and two women had been staying in a house in the western Australian city of Perth when they received a package for a prior tenant containing an unknown white powder labeled “scoop.”
Thinking it was cocaine, the backpackers — who were between 21 and 25 and included five French nationals, two Germans, an Italian and a Moroccan — each snorted a line.
But within minutes they collapsed to the floor, unable to move or even talk.
“We were powerless, we couldn’t do anything,” the Italian victim told the Western Australian newspaper.
Australian authorities later determined the substance was the motion sickness drug hyoscine that is sometimes used as a date rape drug. Also known as scopalamine or the “devil’s breath”the drug is most often seen in places like Colombia where criminals use it to place victims into a zombie-like state to rob or sexually assault them.
The Perth victims were luckily soon found when another housemate returned to the home and called for help.
“They were brought to us in a state of agitated delirium,” said Dr. David McCutcheon of the Royal Perth Hospital. “They were hallucinating, their hearts were racing, several of them had to be put in a medically induced coma for their own protection and I really need to emphasise how seriously unwell they were.”
He said it was likely that at least some of the patients would have died if they received medical attention any later than they did, and that it was unclear whether any of them might suffer lasting injuries.