Three young people who are fighting for their lives after a mass drug overdose at a Perth house would be dead if not for the swift actions of a resident who called an ambulance, doctors say.
Colombo Street in inner-city Victoria Park was a busy scene at midnight on Tuesday when nine ambulances, 20 paramedics and police attended after nine people overdosed on some form of synthetic drug.
The emergency crews found seven men and two women, aged 21 to 25, some of them distressed, some semi-conscious and others unconscious.
Acting Deputy Police Commissioner Gary Budge said he had never heard of an overdose in WA involving so many people.
Those affected included five French citizens, two from Germany, one Italian and one Moroccan.
It is believed the drugs arrived in the mail posted from New York, addressed to someone who had never lived at the residence.
The backpackers allegedly opened the parcel and, thinking it was cocaine, divided it into nine lines before snorting the substance.
A sample of the white powdered drug consumed by the group has been sent to be tested, with results expected back within 24 hours.
Royal Perth Hospital emergency doctor David McCutcheon said the patients arrived hallucinating, ill and in a state of agitated delirium and, most seriously, had racing hearts and overheating bodies.
Three were put into induced comas and were in intensive care "for their own protection", he said.
"I really need to emphasise how seriously unwell they were," Dr McCutcheon told reporters on Wednesday.
Royal Perth Hospital clinical toxicologist Jessamine Soderstrom said overheating bodies were eventually fatal.
"You go into multi-organ failure and patients die from that," she told reporters.
"If it wasn't for the timely call of the resident, some of those patients inevitably would have died."
She urged people to immediately ring 000 if they were concerned about someone who had taken an illegal drug.
Several people were released from hospital later on Wednesday including two men seen returning to the house in a taxi, one still wearing a hospital gown.
One of the backpackers told reporters he had felt like his face was "melting off" and that he had tried to scream but his mouth would not open.
Neighbours described a scene in which the young people were wheeled out on ambulance stretchers, with "glassy eyes" and one man behaving aggressively, punching at the air.
Mr Budge said the event was a timely reminder that illegal drugs were a "menace that we have in our community".
The couple who own the property attracted the attention of the Victoria Park local government, with council officers visiting on Wednesday and investigating if it was being illegally used as a backpacker hostel.
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Mayor Trevor Vaughan said in a statement that neighbours had complained for the same reason in June last year, planning officers had investigated and found that that was the case and told the owner to stop doing so.
Health Minister Roger Cook said the prospect of a "bad batch" of drugs in Perth was worrying.
He said there was no such as thing as a safe illegal drug and the government was committed to reducing supply and demand through law and order and education.