65. FRONTLINES

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Olaf Tyaransen on the wor­ry­ing new re­port from Foren­sic Sci­ence Ire­land on the wide­spread adul­ter­ation of drugs, plus YouTube stars on how they make money and the Ir­ish el­e­ment in Call Of Duty: In­fi­nite War­fare.

Most il­le­gal drugs aren’t pro­hib­ited be­cause they’re dan­ger­ous. They’re dan­ger­ous be­cause they’re pro­hib­ited. It’s an apho­rism that many drug le­gal­i­sa­tion cam­paign­ers will be fa­mil­iar with, and one that im­me­di­ately sprang to this writer’s mind when cast­ing an un­sur­prised eye over the data con­tained in Foren­sic Sci­ence Ire­land’s most re­cent re­port on the pu­rity – or lack thereof – of the il­licit sub­stances cur­rently widely avail­able on this small is­land.

Deal­ing with around 8,000 sam­ples per year,

FSI is the agency that analy­ses il­licit drugs seized by An Garda Siochána and the Cus­toms Ser­vice and is­sues Cer­tifi­cates of Anal­y­sis for crim­i­nal trials and other court pur­poses. They mon­i­tor the pu­rity of bulk seizures of co­caine, heroin and am­phet­a­mine by quan­ti­fy­ing sam­ples from all seizures of th­ese sub­stances in packs weigh­ing in ex­cess of 25 grams. FSI also tests the pu­rity of street level coke and heroin, by analysing rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ples of seizures of less than 25 grams.

Their most re­cent re­port (pub­lished on their web­site foren­sic­science.ie) con­tains some rel­a­tively good news for Dublin co­caine-users: street level Char­lie is 28% in the cap­i­tal, as com­pared to 19% in the sticks.

An­other way of look­ing at th­ese fig­ures, how­ever, is to say that the gram of coke you score in

Dublin is 72 per­cent not co­caine, while the gram pur­chased in Cork, Lim­er­ick, Galway, Water­ford or Athlone is a shock­ing 81 per­cent not co­caine. When it comes to il­licit drugs, the glass is nei­ther halfempty nor half-full no mat­ter what way you de­cide to look at it.

ADULTERATED CO­CAINE

Coke deal­ers are us­ing a va­ri­ety of sub­stances to bulk up their prod­uct, in­clud­ing vet­eri­nary med­i­ca­tion for par­a­sitic worms. Nice! The most com­mon adul­ter­ants found in the sam­ples an­a­lysed by FSI were lev­amisole, ben­zo­caine, lig­no­caine, caf­feine and phenacetin.

As Love/Hate fans will be aware, ben­zo­caine and lig­no­caine (also known as li­do­caine) are lo­cal anaes­thet­ics com­monly used by den­tists. Phenacetin is a painkiller.

Lavamisole is a med­i­ca­tion used by vets to treat par­a­sitic worm in­fec­tions, and is said to make co­caine su­per-po­tent by re­leas­ing more dopamine in the brain. The sub­stance was found in 73 per­cent of the co­caine sam­ples an­a­lysed.

In fair­ness to Ir­ish coke deal­ers, they’re prob­a­bly not the cul­prits when it comes to the lavamisole. Ac­cord­ing to Dr Tom Han­ni­gan, di­rec­tor of chem­i­cal sciences at FSI, the use of lev­amisole to bulk up co­caine is a rel­a­tively re­cent de­vel­op­ment, and it tends to be added dur­ing pro­duc­tion in South Amer­i­can coun­tries such as Colom­bia, Bo­livia and Peru.

Well, not in the man­ner in­tended any­way. The re­cent re­port from Foren­sic Sci­ence Ire­land on the adul­ter­ation of the most widely used il­licit drugs on this is­land makes for de­press­ing, but

mostly pre­dictable read­ing.

Lev­amisole was orig­i­nally used on hu­mans

(in chemo­ther­apy cancer treat­ment), but was with­drawn from the US mar­ket in early 2000 be­cause of its ad­verse side ef­fects. How­ever, it is still ap­proved in the States as an anti-helminthic agent in vet­eri­nary medicine.

Its use as a co­caine cut­ting agent has be­come so wide­spread in re­cent times that it now has an ac­cepted med­i­cal acro­nym. The aptly named Lev­amisole In­duced Ne­cro­sis Syn­drome (LINES) is a com­pli­ca­tion of adulterated co­caine – skin ne­cro­sis, neu­trope­nia and fever are just some of the symp­toms – that was recog­nised in 2011.

What­ever about LINES, co­caine isn’t the only pow­dered drug to be heav­ily adulterated. The

FSI re­port also showed that the av­er­age pu­rity of am­phet­a­mine (speed) seized by the au­thor­i­ties in 2015 was just 9.2 per­cent, while the av­er­age pu­rity of street level heroin was 33 per­cent in Dublin, and 35 per­cent in the rest of the coun­try. The most com­mon adul­ter­ants found in heroin were caf­feine and parac­eta­mol. The most com­mon bulk­ing adul­ter­ant found in am­phet­a­mine is caf­feine.

OR­GAN­ISED CRIME

How do the FSI find­ings com­pare to other

Euro­pean coun­tries? Well, in­ter­na­tional com­par­isons from across the con­ti­nent show that co­caine seizures were typ­i­cally of 33—50 per­cent pu­rity am­phet­a­mine typ­i­cally 9—19 per­cent pu­rity, and heroin typ­i­cally 13—23 per­cent pu­rity. Cu­ri­ously, we ac­tu­ally get purer smack in Ire­land, while get­ting a se­ri­ously bad deal on coke and speed.

None of this is sur­pris­ing. Thanks to pro­hi­bi­tion, there are vast prof­its to be made in trad­ing il­le­gal drugs. Those prof­its can ob­vi­ously be greatly in­creased by bulk­ing up the prod­uct. Just as many peo­ple died from drink­ing bath­tub-dis­tilled gin and whiskey dur­ing Amer­ica’s failed al­co­hol pro­hi­bi­tion of 1920-1933, drug users to­day are dy­ing or be­ing made se­ri­ously ill from badly adulterated coke, speed, heroin and ec­stasy. The liquor pro­hi­bi­tion led to the rise of or­gan­ised crime in Amer­ica, much as the mod­ern drug pro­hi­bi­tion has done to­day.

The writer Bill Bryson put it very well: “There’d never been a more ad­van­ta­geous time to be a crim­i­nal in Amer­ica than dur­ing the 13 years of Pro­hi­bi­tion. At a stroke, the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment closed down the fifth largest in­dus­try in the United States – al­co­hol pro­duc­tion – and just handed it to crim­i­nals. A pretty re­mark­able thing to do.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same – to our col­lec­tive shame. We’re con­stantly hear­ing that cit­i­zens of all ages, and across the so­cial spec­trum, are us­ing th­ese sub­stances in every vil­lage, town and city in the land. Shouldn’t the gov­ern­ment re­sponse at this stage be to sim­ply ac­cept the re­al­ity, and en­sure that the coke, smack, speed and ec­stasy that peo­ple are consuming in their droves is pure, unadul­ter­ated, and at least rel­a­tively safe?

Or are all Ir­ish drug-users to be con­demned to keep snort­ing worm med­i­ca­tion (po­ten­tially wind­ing up as worm fod­der as a re­sult), and be told that that’s all they de­serve for be­ing im­moral, weak-willed de­viants? Surely our laws should be for the wel­fare of so­ci­ety as a whole rather than for the pun­ish­ment of sup­posed sins?

The time for a se­ri­ous re-think on drug pol­icy was about 40 years ago. But it’s never too late to de­velop some sim­ple com­mon sense. Hot Press Best Of Ire­land cover star Bláth­naid Treacy presided over the launch last month of the 2017 Drugs.ie Na­tional Youth Me­dia Awards.

“It’s im­por­tant to re­alise that many young peo­ple do ex­per­i­ment with drugs: this is one of the re­al­ties of grow­ing up,” the RTÉ star told a packed City Hall. “We know that telling young peo­ple, ‘Just Say No’, doesn’t work. Once we ac­cept that, we can find out what we can do that works.”

Dublin’s Anna Lif­fey Drug Project, who founded the awards, place great stock in peer-to-peer aware­ness, which is why they’re ask­ing school and col­lege stu­dents to come up with a news ar­ti­cle, video/an­i­ma­tion, au­dio record­ing or poster ad­dress­ing the is­sues of why some young peo­ple use drugs, and the im­pact al­co­hol has on relationships. There are four age cat­e­gories (12-14, 15-17, 18-21 and 21-25) and a €2,000 prize to make the win­ning even sweeter. You have up un­til Fe­bru­ary 1 to en­ter at drugs.ie, with the awards cer­e­mony tak­ing place in April.

Ana Lif­fey are tar­get­ing their big­gest third level en­try yet, so think­ing caps on!

In the next is­sue of Hot Press, we’ll be bring­ing you de­tails of the Global Drug Sur­vey 2016 and re­port­ing on why syn­thetic cannabis is re­ally not good for you.

EN­TRIES SOUGHT FOR DRUGS.IE YOUTH AWARDS

THE HOG // PG 67

YOU TU­BERS // PG 68

Bláth­naid Treacy with Ana Lif­fey Project CEO Tony Duf­fin

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