Parkinson’s disease medicines repackaged as Xanax for sale on Irish market

People who believe they are taking sedatives are consuming completely different drugs

Tablets used to treat Parkinson's disease have being packaged as Xanax sedatives and smuggled into the Republic for sale on the black market, the director general of Forensic Science Ireland (FSI) has said.

Chris Enright told The Irish Times that in recent months there had been four major seizures of counterfeit Xanax. Each involved tens of thousands of tablets packaged as Xanax but were instead tablets used to treat Parkinson’s disease, hayfever and nausea.

“The most recent seizure was 40,000 tablets. It is very concerning and this is relatively recent,” he said, though he added it was unclear who the target market was for the counterfeit Xanax tablets.

“Is it people who are looking for a cheaper form of the drug and they think they are getting what they need cheaper? Or is it people who are looking to abuse [the drug]?”


He added it was a matter of real concern that people who believed they were taking a sedative were in fact consuming a drug with a completely different active ingredient and they were unaware of this.

Mr Enright also said there had been a 30 per cent increase in forensic samples related to sex crimes being sent to FSI for testing since the start of this year.

Examining samples linked to sexual assault was now regarded by FSI as “an area of significant growth”.

“That increased pretty significantly over [last] year,” he said of sex crime samples. “And we are seeing that increasing so far in 2019.

“We’re seeing an increase of 30 per cent in submissions coming into the laboratory.”

The increase in workload related to sexual offences being experienced by FSI follows a sharp increase in the number of sexual offences being reported to the Garda.

Last year the total number of sex crimes breached 3,000 for the first time ever; the third year in a row a new annual record had been set for reported sexual offending.

Reported sex crime has increased by 62 per cent since 2014, with most of that increase in the past two years.

Mr Enright said it was not possible to determine if the increase was due to an actual increase in offending, a great willingness among victims to come forward or both.

“We’re seeing a continuous upward trend,” he said of sex crimes, adding the samples being sent to FSI were also been examining much more closely for toxins, such as alcohol or drugs.

To date no clear evidence had emerged that victims’ drinks were being spiked by perpetrators, despite the perception the practice was common. The most common toxin found in sex crime samples was alcohol.

Mr Enright made his remarks on the same day Forensic Science Ireland’s annual report for 2018 was published.

It says 867 investigative links between suspects and unsolved crimes were made last year using the State’s DNA database, which is maintained via the FSI’s work. These included burglaries, sex assaults and murder, among others.

Of the drug seizures FSI was asked by the Garda to examine last year, some 47 per cent were cannabis, 26 per cent were cocaine, 16 per cent were tablets that were mainly MDMA and 11 per cent of the drug seizures analysed by FSI proved to be heroin.

While the cocaine market was stable, in terms of the number of seizures being sent to FSI for analysis, Mr Enright said there appeared to be resurgence in MDMA, or ecstasy.

And because there was a growing knowledge about growing cannabis crops with a higher potency, the strength of cannabis on the Irish market had increased.

The total number of DNA cases handled by Forensic Science Ireland increased by approximately 500 cases to 4,500 last year.

More than 7,500 drugs cases were analysed during the year, including 4,500 “complex cases”. A complex case is one where FSI is examining a consignment of drugs to confirm the drug type but has also been asked to, for example, extract a DNA sample in the hope of linking a suspect to a consignment.

Forensic Science Ireland analyses a range of samples sent to it by gardaí investigating crimes, such as sexual offences, drug crime, shootings and burglaries. Suspects have also been linked to crimes by the work FSI does. Samples of DNA from unidentified suspects and from crime scenes can be preserved on the DNA database in the hope a link between an unsolved crime and a criminal might be made at a later date.

FSI has developed new techniques in extracting DNA from bones and analysing DNA samples with higher resolution chemistry. As a result it has identified human remains in five missing persons cases in which identification was not possible before the new techniques were introduced.

While FSI had 100 staff at the start of last year, 10 had been added during 2018 and 27 further staff would be added this year. FSI is currently based in Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, a new facility had just commenced construction at Backweston, Celbridge, Co Kildare.

Some of the laboratory work currently carried out by the Garda Technical Bureau was also being taken in to FSI, following a 2015 recommendation by the Garda Inspectorate.

Key role

The evidence produced by Forensic Science Ireland played a key role in a number of high-profile prosecutions last year.

Dublin criminal Freddie Thompson was convicted for the Kinahan-Hutch 2016 feud murder of David Douglas after his DNA was found on an inhaler in one car linked to the murder and inside a second vehicle also linked to it.

Firearm residue found on the gloves and clothes of Warren Nolan (22), Clondalkin, Dublin, led to his conviction for the murder of Alan O’Neill (35) in Tallaght in May, 2015.

In the case of young Limerick man Gussie Shanahan (20), who had gone missing in 2000, FSI confirmed remains found in north Co Dublin in 2001 were his. This was possible after FSI scientists developed a new way of extracting DNA from bone, especially bone found in water.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times