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Date [ 2013-03-25, 10:35 ]

Just as one thought the Designer Drug avalanche was over, fresh news has hit the headlines again.

 

(Kuala Lumpur=Koreanpress) By Ramani Rathir = Just this month, police arrested 25 people that not only involved Malaysians but also three Taiwanese businessmen and three Nepalis. They were caught in mop-up operations of 15 simultaneous drug raids across three states. At the end of it all, the police chalked up the biggest seizure this year of 88,000 tablets of Eramin 5 pills, worth a street value of RM43 million. These were headed not only for the local but also the Southeast Asian markets.

Federal Narcotics Crime Investigation Department Director, Datuk Noor Rashid Ibrahim revealed that , “These raids uncovered two drug labs and two stores in Penang, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur. The suspects ranging in age from 24 to 60, included two women.”

What was worrying was the involvement of foreigners in the production of the drugs. After a four-month surveillance and in collaboration with the Malaysian Special Branch and Taiwan's Drug Enforcement Division and Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau, police raided two apartments in Damansara and Petaling. It was believed that Taiwanese businessmen put in their drug processing expertise as well as ingredients from Taiwan to produce the pills. Drug paraphernalia like a plastic sealer, a weighing machine and several containers containing drugs in plastic packets were also found.

Producing designer pills seems to be an easy thing then. No need for large factories with hundreds of workers. Just a shophouse lot will do and less than 10 workers can get production started. So a lot of times, the pills are produced in one place and stored in another. Such was the case when a two--storey shop lot in Taman Pinggiran Senawang, Negri Sembilan was raided. Authorities did not find any drug paraphernalia but just stacks of pills. 

The Sales Pitch 

Malaysia does not seem to have many large syndicates. Otherwise we would witness turf wars. There are hardly any reports of gangs fighting to sell their drugs. Instead there seems to be more small-time pushers. People who buy from the syndicates and then sell them direct to users.  

There are also one-man pushers like Agyekun Gyan from Ghana. “I have come here twice before and it was easy selling the drugs. But my luck has run out this time,” he ended ruefully. His modus operandi, swallowing capsules of syabu, about 100 of them. He would have been richer by about RM300,000 if he had slipped by Kuala Lumpur International Airport, after arriving from Mumbai.

Risky Pills to Swallow

Designer pills come in neat-looking little tablets, in all the colours of the rainbow , stamped with logos drug dealers hope will generate brand recognition and loyalty.

But the scary part is designer drugs are not consistent in that users get the same type of high each time they use it. According to health experts, there is no way for users to know what they are getting from one week to the next.

In a study done in Canada, a drug awareness co-coordinator reported, "One main thing the research confirmed is that there is no relation between a logo or a crest on a pill and the active ingredients. Taking these pills is like playing Russian Roulette. One does not know just what one is taking.”


Another report from an American anti-drug centre analyzed 381 samples of designer drugs seized from wild parties, the John F. Kennedy Airport and clandestine laboratories in New York, in the last two years. What it found
was
methamphetamine, a major stimulant better known as speed in 23 per cent of the samples and MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, in 18 per cent. Ecstasy is the most popular of the designer drugs in Malaysia. But it is very probable drug users are getting more of methamphetamine, which is very addictive, than ecstasy.  

The pills are taken like candy, which they are not. There are short-term and long-term effects, with the latter being very debilitating. Coming in tablet seizes, they are in different forms. Some have luxury cars, like a Ferrari pasted on their labels. The danger is, drug users assume the pill they now have in their hands, bearing the Ferrari logo, will give the same effect as the deep red pill with the Ferrari symbol they took last week. Not so! An analysis will reveal there are large variances in the dosages between tablets that are similar in appearance. Some contained completely different drugs. Some were found to only contain
caffeine.

It would be good if those working in prevention and education programmes inform about the dangers of designer drugs. Currently, on a worldwide level, marijuana and cocaine are the most popular, with ecstasy coming in third. But while these two top drugs seem to be stagnating or even declining, designer drugs are on the upswing.

 

Starting Young 

One main reason could be the users are all young, between 15 to 20 years old... The majority are party goers and Friday and Saturday nights will have them usually in a discotheque or pub. M. Kumaran had this to say, “Wild nights! Have drinks and of course the party drugs, ice baby!”

He is only 16.

Another reason designer drugs are so popular is that they are easily available, being produced locally. These drugs are also difficult to trace through standard police urine tests.

Kumaran gave his punch line,”…why worry man, these drugs are not addictive.” If he had cared to check with drug rehabilitation centres, he would have found that almost 80 per cent of the new inmates are there because of designer drugs. Many suffer from brain damage. This could be due to the pills being heavily contaminated, some with rat poison.

But it is not only party and club revelers who take the drugs. Some students say, like Azmi Ariff,” I depend on it to keep me awake all through the night as I study for my finals.

The pills usually taken are Ecstasy, Ketamine, Eramin 5 and Syabu.

The most common form of taking these designer drugs is to swallow them. Other ways are to snort, inject or inhale them. Addiction soon follows and the users are killed slowly. What is most disturbing, the addicts at these times think they are very healthy. This may be due to the fact that their brain is affected and they cannot think straight. 

What is not realized, of the two main categories of drugs, opiate-based and synthetic, the latter is more dangerous. Opiate drugs such as heroin, opium and morphine attack a single receptor in the addict's brain. Synthetic drugs affect several areas of the brain and produce more side effects. The most dangerous of these are syabu and ice. They are responsible for higher death figures, causing hallucinations, paranoia and amnesia. Organ failure is common, as the drugs affect the lungs, heart, liver and kidney.

 

Setting Things Straight

 

Dr Mahmud Mazlan is specialist who has been treating drug addicts for more than 15 years now. He warned,” Synthetic drug users usually have a clean appearance and appear normal, unlike the dirty looking drug addicts of the back lanes. But they are also dangerous.”  He continued, “Addiction typically occurs when a person begins to use the drug as a stimulant, for sex, as an energy stimulant, increase alertness and concentration. As the body develops tolerance, users have to take higher doses to experience the same effect.”

The doctor revealed that, “Many of the addicts I treat claim they see weird figures waiting outside their room or they feel that everyone wants to harm them.. In extreme cases, some addicts commit murder or kill themselves due to their hallucinations.”

The Home Scene

So how serious a problem is the country facing?

 UNICEF Representative to Malaysia and Special Representative to Brunei, Youssouf Oomar commented,” People in their youth are most vulnerable to drugs, particularly when they begin experimenting with illicit drugs.”

He highlighted the dangerous impact of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) – which include ecstasy, the popular methamphetamines that were crystal, syabu and ice and the amphetamine ,speed. Closely associated with the clubbing scene they have come to embody today’s fashionable lifestyle among the young.

The figures are alarming. The Malaysian National Anti-Drug Agency reported that ATS were the second most common type of drugs consumed after the opiates group. Users usually came from the marginalized youth sector. These faced problems of unemployment, neglect, violence and sexual abuse. Furthermore, when affected adversely by rapid social, economic and cultural changes, they succumb, especially if there is no adequate family support.

But Youssouf also highlighted  that drug abuse is also occurring among youth from the middle and high income groups, who are increasingly being exposed to a popular youth culture that seems to have a more tolerant attitude to  “recreational” drugs.

In Malaysia, it was found that the top three reasons for drug use were peer influence, fun and curiosity, between the 13 to 29 age group.. They made up 90% of the drug users . Their most common method was injecting with needles, leading to risk of HIV infections

Working on the premise that young people will make right and responsible decisions, if given the proper information, UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Education to introduce Life Skills-Based Education into schools. So far it has trained more than 120 secondary school teachers nationwide on personal and social development, inclusive of problems caused by drug abuse and HIV infection. So far, close to 5,000 students have been taught skills and values to better control their lives. Meanwhile, the National Anti-Drug Agency has already begun a pilot programme, specifically targeted at synthetic drug abusers.

Identification and Control

A report from the UN indicates that designer drugs are multiplying at a worrying rate. It has called for international efforts to stem the spread of these substances.

The Vienna-based, International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has indicated, “…there has been an unprecedented surge in the abuse of new psychoactive substances," often called "legal highs" or "designer drugs.”.

What is meant by ‘legal highs?’ In 2011, bags of bath salts appeared in Washington and sold above counters. It came to be known later, they were used to get a high.

. “Now in Europe, thousands of such drugs exist on the market. Following behind are the increasing users who soon suffer ill health or death,” informed Raymond Yans, head of INCB.

While Malaysia has labeled designer drugs as being illegal, these are not subject to international control, and worse, are readily available on the Internet. Until new ways are found to identify the drugs and stop their distribution, Malaysia is in a bind.

abc@koreanpress.net

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