Head shop drugs evading customs

ILLEGAL head shop drugs are being sold in bulk online direct from labs in Malaysia, Cameroon and Hungary, with vendors claiming they are using “discreet packaging” to get through customs checks.

Several online sellers contacted by the Irish Examiner claimed there was “no problem” with customs, even if importing 1kg of an illegal substance, equivalent to the size of a bag of sugar.

“We do discrete delivery to Ireland, packaging is such that you have no problem with customs,” the dealer said. “Of the following, do you prefer DHL, UPS, EMS or FEDEX? Our products are of very high quality and delivery takes a maximum of two days to Ireland.”

Paddy Lonergan, assistant principal in charge at Portlaoise Mail Centre, said it was a general rule of thumb internationally that just about 10% of illegal substances are picked up by customs. But, he said, it is impossible to measure and no drugs agency could produce a reliable statistic.

Mr Lonergan said a joint operation between customs and Interpol this month saw 39 seizures in the first week, 36 in the second week and 55 in the third, with the main items intercepted being Xanax, Diazapam, larazapam, anti-anxiety benzodiazepines which are known to be highly addictive. The drugs came predominantly from India, but also from the US and the Philippines.

In May, the Department of Health declared a number of substances or “legal highs” sold in head shops to be controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The substances included mephedrone, methylone methedrone, butylone, flephedrone, and MDPV, all of which are now being sold widely on the internet for prices ranging from about $2,000 to $4,000 (€1,450-€2,890) for 1kg.

Dr Colin O’Gara, head of the addictions unit at St John of God Hospital, said since the closure of head shops, users were reporting less availability of synthetic drugs, but he said the number of people presenting for treatment had not declined, suggesting the trade has simply gone underground.

Dr O’Gara said drug smugglers are “ingenious” in the methods they use to get drugs into the country.

“Substances are being packaged from the manufacturers into birthday cards.

“It looks like a card but you slit down the sides and the powder is flat packed inside.

“There has been no decrease in people presenting for treatment but now obtaining them has shifted to the illicit market.

“The price of drugs like mephedrone has gone down since they were made illegal and there is still a huge appetite for them.

“User surveys say they prefer the high from mephedrone than cocaine.”

Other substances intercepted this month by customs officials were Sibutramine, a prescription weight-loss pill, “white powder” which was sent for identification and hydrocodone, a semi-synthetic substance derived from codeine. During 2009, more than 1,200 packages of abortion drugs available on the internet were seized.

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