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.
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.
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