Ban on head shop drugs did not end trade, it simply pushed it underground
BACKGROUND:THE DRUG-RELATED deaths of Liam Coffey and Michael Coleman, both 22, in Kinsale, Co Cork, last month took away from loving families two talented young men with their whole lives stretched out ahead of them.
A studious pair – one had just graduated and the other was about to start third level – they were experimenting with drugs in Coleman’s rented home when they died.
They had taken a synthetic drugs cocktail containing two amphetamines: methylamphetamine, also known as MDMA or ecstasy; and paramethoxymethamphetamine, or PMMA, a stimulant and psychedelic sometimes known as “Dr Death” or “Mandy”.
The deaths of the men, both recreational drug users rather than addicts, was the first time that PMMA had attracted such close media attention in the Republic.
However, Customs officers and the Garda Síochána say that since the banning in mid 2010 of the synthetic products sold by head shops, the trade has simply gone underground. The drugs are now being sourced from outside the State in greatly increased quantities for sale here.
“Before, the party drugs, for want of a better phrase, were the likes of cannabis, speed and ecstasy but when the head shops came in you had a whole new range,” said one Garda source. “And since they [head shops] have been banned those new drugs they brought into Ireland haven’t disappeared. It’s just that now you get them off the same guy you get your cannabis or cocaine from, rather than buying them in a shop.”
The product lines on offer vary hugely but, in broad terms, can mimic the effects of cannabis or stimulants such as cocaine, amphetamine and ecstasy, with some having hallucinogenic properties.
Customs sources say the evidence is mounting to suggest that many recreational drug users are ordering the drugs from websites based abroad and are having them delivered in the post. They say drug dealers are engaging in the same illegal practice but are sourcing much larger quantities.
“Much of it is being produced in China,” said one Customs source.
“Obviously when somebody finds a website where they can buy these drugs, that site can be based in China or really any part of the world. While the product is being manufactured in China, it’s arriving in Ireland from all parts of the world.”
The parcels containing the drugs are arriving so often now that Customs officers have become better at spotting them.
“A lot of the packing can be similar so you do get better at spotting something that looks suspect. We also have the likes of sniffer dogs as well and we can X-ray pieces of mail and parcels.”
Another said: “It can come in in a small parcel with maybe two small bags of drugs worth no more than €50 in a small cardboard wrapping.
“Or you can get several kilos of powder disguised as something else in a drum. We’re seeing it in both the regular postal service and also private courier parcels.”
When drugs are being ordered, often the credit cards or payment methods being used cannot be traced to the purchaser. For delivery purposes, many purchasers are addressing the drugs parcels to vacant commercial or residential properties they have access to.
In other cases addresses are being used for vacant apartments that have mail boxes in communal areas that can be discreetly checked and items of post taken from them without anybody noticing.
“Some people order them to their own homes but not under their own names,” said one security source. “So even if the parcel was traced and the gardaí or customs raided the house, the person could just say they hadn’t a clue why a parcel for somebody else arrived at their house and it may be hard to prove otherwise, especially if they haven’t opened it yet.”
Another source said that while factories in China were the main source of the drugs, there were production facilities elsewhere and the websites offering the products for sale can be located anywhere.
“There appears to have been something of a reappearance of laboratories in Holland. And you would also see websites selling the products that are based in the Baltic states and Poland and other places in eastern Europe.”