40% of UK cocaine laced with poison: Animal wormer causes fatal seizures - Exclusive
At least 40% of cocaine seized at UK borders is laced with a chemical that can cause seizures, unconsciousness and death.
Drug dealers are mixing pure cocaine with tetramisole to make it go further.
The white powder is supposed to be used for worming animals. But large doses can poison humans, leading to fever and difficulty breathing caused by the swelling of lips and throat.
Victims are also at risk of losing consciousness, numbness and seizures. Tetramisole also weakens the immune system - making cocaine users more susceptible to infections. Professor Simon Thomas, a poisons expert, said: "Uncontaminated cocaine has very dangerous effects in some users, including heart attacks and strokes.
"The addition of tetramisole adds the further risk of of serious infections. And in some cases these effects may be fatal."
There have been at least three deaths and more than 100 serious illnesses in the US and Canada.
Cocaine-related deaths in the UK rose by a fifth to 235 in 2008 and have soared by 50% in the past five years. No deaths have so far been linked to tetramisole in this country.
According to the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, a typical one-kilo block of cocaine arriving in the UK has dropped from 80% purity to 65 % since 2007. Once here, the block may be cut with other chemicals up to seven times before hitting the streets. Users can end up buying a white powder that contains as little as 1% pure cocaine.
A spokeswoman for Soca added: "Where previously inert cutting agents like brick dust or talcum powder were used, we have seen a rising number of anaesthetics and analgesics.
"These mimic some of the effects of properties of cocaine, numbing the gums in the way a user would expect with cocaine.
"It convinces people they have got a good product and massively increases the dealers' profit margin."
A Soca source added: "A lot of stuff on the street is just one or 2% purity.
"People say that the streets are awash with cocaine, but we would ask, 'Is it actually cocaine?'"
235 Cocaine-related deaths in UK, up a fifth in 2008. They've leapt 50% over the past five years
1% Purity of cocaine when it reaches the user after additives are mixed in up to seven times
1m Estimated number of cocaine users in the UK. Demand for has risen as supplies have fallen
Signs drug trade is on its uppers
The increased use of tetramisole to dilute cocaine reveals a drug trade that is under pressure, Soca believes.
A source said: "There's a problem with production in Colombia at the moment. Availability is down. There are shortages of high purity product.
"We're also seeing evidence of more pressure on trafficking groups, who are looking for safe havens to produce cocaine in Venezuela and Ecuador."
The cocaine laboratories are also becoming less and less sophisticated as producers are forced to make them easier to move around to avoid detection.
The source said: "Until recently a lab would look like a fairly switched on operation with huts and barrack rooms.
"But we're seeing they're becoming much quicker to set up and look more like shanty towns."
Destruction of the coca leaf crop by the authorities is also having a major effect on supply.
Author: Emily Nash
Date: 22nd Spetember 2009