For Bailey Chalmers, the thought of drinking alcohol in Bali brings back dark memories.
It was less than a month ago that the Perth teen nearly lost his life after he was poisoned by methanol on the tourist island.
But with thousands of young Australians heading to hotspots like Seminyak in a few weeks for Schoolies, Mr Chalmers is desperate to ensure nobody goes through the same terrifying ordeal he did.
Thankfully for the 19-year-old, methanol awareness campaigner Colin Ahearn was on hand to provide life-saving advice when Mr Chalmer’s mum went in search for answers online after her son drank a cocktail made from a tainted batch of fake spirits – a problem synonymous with Indonesia.
The pair met face to face for the first time this week, with Mr Chalmers thanking Mr Ahearn for essentially saving his life.
With leavers just around the corner, Mr Chalmers and Mr Ahearn have delivered a poignant message for Schoolies to ensure they look after themselves.
‘Don’t drink spirits in Bali’
“We particularly want to talk to people looking to head over to Bali for leavers,” Mr Ahearn says in an awareness video the pair released this week.
“If you go to Bali, you’re going to have drinks, that’s what leavers is about,” Mr Ahearn notes.
But as the name of his popular travel Facebook page suggests, his message is clear.
“Just don’t drink spirits in Bali,” he reiterates.
Now full educated on the matter, Mr Chalmers now takes over.
“Basically anything that’s over the bar that’s poured from a 700ml, 1.5 litre bottle of straights spirits into a cocktail, a shot, whatever it is,” he advises.
“The chances are it’s going to be fine but there is that one in a thousand, one in ten thousand that you get that is methanol... it could change your life.”
During their meetup this week, they looked back on their first contact – via Mr Chalmer’s mother who found Mr Ahearn online.
Advice on tackling methanol poisoning
With Mr Chalmers’ health rapidly deteriorating and Balinese medical staff alarmingly relaxed over his condition, his distressed mother was delivered life-saving advice from Mr Ahearn.
One way to tackle methanol poisoning is to counteract it with ethanol, an ingredient in all alcoholic drinks.
Mr Ahearn instructed Mr Chalmers to find a bottle of duty-free spirit to drink over a short period of time. It was essential for the drink to be duty-free to guarantee it wasn’t tainted and the high ethanol content would essentially flush out the methanol.
And to Mr Chalmers’ relief, it worked.
For Mr Ahearn, his advice on drinking spirits in Bali is as vital as ever with schoolies just weeks away.
“Methanol poisoning is still a real thing over there,” he says in the video.
‘If you’re going to run amok, find another way to run amok. Don’t do it drinking spirits over there.
“If it’s free-poured spirits behind a bar, there’s a chance your parents don’t get to see you.
“If you’re going to be in Bali for leavers... please, do it safely, do it smart. By all means have a good time, just don’t drink spirits in Bali.”
Several safety concerns for leavers heading to Bali
Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, Mr Ahearn, who became involved in methanol poisoning awareness following the 2013 death of Australian-Kiwi Liam Davies in the nearby Gilli Islands, said tainted alcohol was just one of several safety concerns for young Australians travelling to the popular holiday island.
‘These kids sometimes think there’s no rules over in Bali but it can get very real very quickly over there,” he said.
In 2011, Central Coast schoolie Jake Flannery died when he was electrocuted by a metal pole outside a Kuta.
And while his death was a tragic accident, there are other potentially-fatal dangers, such as riding motorcycles and scooters, while visiting Bali.
Mr Ahearn said Mr Chalmer’s close call has “come at the perfect time” to raise awareness of the dangers teens can face.
“It’s not just the methanol that’s going to be an issue over there. There’s drink spiking and being robbed is pretty common.”
Mr Ahearn says while drinking pre-mixed bottles obviously nullifies the risk of drinking tainted spirits, he said it was also an excellent way of avoiding being spiked with the opening of the bottle far smaller than cocktail glasses for example.
“Don’t put your drinks down, that’s certainly key,” he advised.
One of the most important pieces of advice Mr Ahearn has is to get a local sim card. He says during endless visits to Bali he has witnessed first hand how Australians in emergency situations have been hampered by not having a working phone.
“People need to be have data on their phones so they can message someone so they’re not isolated,” he said.
Becoming isolated he says is particularly challenging for teens who are in a foreign, unfamiliar country and often intoxicated.
While Mr Ahearn is fully aware there will be extensive drinking during the holiday period, he says its essential Australians make “good choices” when drinking alcohol. On top of avoiding free-poured spirits, revellers must drink to their limits and avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
Detecting methanol in tampered drinks
He says it is essential for visitors to have prior knowledge of methanol poisoning and what to do if they believe they’ve fallen victim from it.
One of the biggest problems with methanol is being able to detect it, Mr Ahearn points out.
Methanol is odourless and tasteless and people can often mistake its effects with the consumption of alcohol, according to the World Health Organisation.
With its consumption alongside ethanol, there is a delay in metabolism resulting in a delay in the “onset of toxicity for many hours”.
Symptoms include drowsiness and victims may become unsteady and disinhibited.
As time passes, those affected may suffer headaches, as well as vomiting and shortness of breath. In the worst cases, methanol poisoning can cause blindness and death from respiratory arrest.
It takes just 60ml of methanol to kill someone. For Mr Chalmers, he had two drinks and was seriously ill as a result.
Thankfully for Mr Chalmers, he was able to obtain duty-free spirits to help fight the methanol. Mr Ahearn says while the Davies family has since worked tirelessly to improve Balinese medical teams’ understanding of methanol poisoning, there are still times, like Mr Chalmers’ case, where immediate medical help wasn’t available.
For those unable to find duty-free spirits, Mr Ahearn notes that other alcoholic drinks such as sealed wine and beer, while not as effective, will combat the methanol.
And while Mr Ahearn notes that methanol poisoning is very rare, he noted that every time someone buys a free-poured drink they buy themselves a ticket in the methanol poisoning lottery.
“They’ve got to remember it’s not a free for all over there and they’ve got to pull their heads in a bit,” he said.
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