Melbourne crime syndicates are marketing a dangerous liquid industrial solvent as a "harmless" party drug, risking widespread overdoses, a police investigation has revealed.
Detectives seized 260 litres of the chemical on Monday, confirming fears of a strong market in the potentially lethal drug.
The head of the drug taskforce, Doug Fryer, said a drought of gamma hydroxybutyrate (commonly known as GHB, GBH, grievous bodily harm, fantasy or liquid ecstasy) had prompted syndicates to turn to gamma butyrolactone (GBL) and similar chemicals.
"It is very cheap and very dangerous. It is a huge health risk," Detective Inspector Fryer said.
In April 26 people overdosed on GBL that they believed was GHB at a rave party at the Calder Park Thunderdome.
GBL is used in glue removers, floor strippers, paint thinners and pesticides. It has been called "coma in a bottle" and has been linked to date rapes.
Drug researchers say it is marketed in the dance scene as the stimulant "liquid ecstasy" rather than what it is: a depressant that lowers heart and breathing rates.
Matthew Dunn, of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, said he had interviewed users who said they would never take GBL but took liquid ecstasy.
"They are unaware it was the same thing . . . Inexperienced users may not know that until they wake up in an emergency ward."
The taskforce has completed an 18-month audit to try to establish local drug trends and plan investigations into 2010. The audit shows the taskforce:
Arrested 200 suspects and laid 940 charges related to trafficking commercial quantities of drugs and other serious offences.
Seized assets valued at nearly $20 million, including houses, luxury cars, motorbikes, televisions, properties and cash.
Disrupted and destroyed syndicates that police can link to drugs with a street value of more than $62 million.
Arrested suspects alleged to be involved in the production and distribution of 143,800 ecstasy tablets valued at $4.3 million.
Uncovered an elaborate underground factory used for cannabis production.
Detective Inspector Fryer said the taskforce was working closely with Australian Crime Commission, asset seizure experts, tax officials, federal law enforcement agencies and overseas police. "At least 60 per cent of our operations have national or international connections. Our relationship with the ACC is crucial to ongoing success."
Some rings now traffic several different products rather than specialise in one substance.
"We know there are groups who move between large-scale cannabis production to heroin importation," he said.
Police were aware of marijuana growers producing crops valued at up to $600,000 every 12 weeks. In one case an underground bunker was allegedly built for $80,000 to hide a production headquarters.
Police are also concerned at a possible surge in heroin trafficking. Recently 3.5 kilograms was seized from one group, and more than 100 Melbourne-based couriers are believed to be smuggling from Vietnam for syndicates.
Detective Inspector Fryer said anti-corruption measures, installed after several former drug detectives were convicted of criminal charges, were working.
December 18, 2009