Potentially fatal synthetic imitation cannabis detected in State last year

Three deaths after substance exposure confirmed in United Kingdom and one in Sweden

In one case an unknown male’s DNA was found at the scene of seven burglaries in Dublin between 2014 and 2020. File photograph: Getty

In one case an unknown male’s DNA was found at the scene of seven burglaries in Dublin between 2014 and 2020. File photograph: Getty

 

Green plant material seized by gardaí last year turned out to be a synthetic imitation of cannabis linked to poisoning deaths in the UK and Sweden.

MDMB 4en-PINACA is one of many synthetic drugs to enter the market in recent years. It is designed to mimic the look and high of cannabis but tends to be far more potent.

According to Forensic Science Ireland (FSI), it was linked to 11 acute but non-fatal poisoning incidents in the UK last year, including 10 requiring hospitalisation where the person’s life was at risk.

In the last two years, three deaths with confirmed exposure to the drug have been confirmed in the UK and one in Sweden.

In July 2020, gardaí seized about 80g of green plant material they assumed to be cannabis. It was sent for analysis to FSI which found it to be organic plant material which had been impregnated with MDMB 4-en PINACA.

FSI has since seen multiple further cases of what appears to be cannabis containing the substance, it said.

Details of the seizures are contained in FSI’s annual report for 2020 during which it dealt with a 52 per cent increase in submissions from gardaí and other investigative seizures.

Much of the added workload is the result of Forensic Science Ireland taking over fingerprinting and document/handwriting analysis services from the Garda. It reported on almost 6,000 such cases in 2020.

This was in addition to its work testing drugs seized by gardaí. In 2019, 26 per cent of all drug cases dealt with by FSI concerned cocaine. The purity of the drug has been increasing, particularly at street level, it said.

DNA links

In 2016, street cocaine had an average of 34.7 per cent purity. In 2019, it had risen to 46.5 per cent. The purity of seized wholesale cocaine also increased, from 46.8 per cent in 2016 to 52.6 per cent in 2019.

Benzocaine is the most common substance used to bulk out the narcotic, said FSI, followed by levamisole.

The State’s DNA database, which has been maintained by FSI since its establishment in 2015, now contains just under 50,000 samples. In 2020 alone, 8,631 new samples were added including 1,555 samples taken from crime scenes.

Of DNA samples taken from crime scenes, 47 per cent can now be linked to a specific individual.

There were just under 800 people linked to DNA samples from crime scenes last year, including 252 where a single person was linked to multiple alleged offences.

Burglary remained the most common crime where DNA was linked to a suspect, accounting for 346 cases last year.

In one case an unknown male’s DNA was found at the scene of seven burglaries in Dublin between 2014 and 2020. Forensic Science Ireland was able to find a match to a suspect in June 2020 on the Dutch DNA database as part of the Prüm DNA exchange system.