By Alfa · Mar 11, 2004 ·
  1. Alfa

    Goa's innocent, fun-loving reputation has been blown away by a spate
    of drugs deaths, reports Jason Burke

    First came hippies, drawn by peace and cannabis. Then came the ravers,
    with their dance drugs, full-moon parties and henna tattoos. Now the
    darkest side of drugs has come to the golden sands, beach-front bars
    and cheap hotels of Goa - thanks to a massive new trade in illegal
    pharmaceuticals run by British traffickers.

    The past three months have seen an unprecedented wave of drugs-related
    deaths in the western Indian holiday destination. At least a dozen
    foreign tourists, including two Britons, have been found dead. Some
    have been the victims of super-strength heroin, but many have been
    killed using powerful hallucinogens such as ketamine, which is a
    proscribed animal anaesthetic in the UK but is readily available from
    pharmacists in India.

    An empty phial of ketamine was next to a 30-year-old French tourist
    found dead on 25 January and the drug, along with another
    pharmaceutical often prescribed for low blood pressure, was found in
    the room of a dead British tourist on 26 December.

    The demand for ketamine comes from European drug users and owes much
    to British traffickers, who range from tourists looking to fund their
    holiday to professional dealers. Many are involved in a 'triangular
    trade', flying to northern India for the summer to buy cannabis in the
    Himalayan valley of Manali, then travelling to Goa for the winter to
    sell their drugs to backpackers. Profits are then used to buy ketamine
    and other pharmaceuticals, which are smuggled to the UK.

    One British-based trafficker told The Observer last week how he had
    bought ketamine in chemists in Goa for around UKP1.50 a gram and sold it
    for UKP20 at home after smuggling it through UK customs in bottles of
    rose water. 'I made good money,' he said.

    Local anti-narcotics officers say the availability of prescription
    drugs, usually sold as injectible ampoules, is encouraging a move away
    from traditional dance drugs such as ecstasy. 'They are sold over the
    counter without a prescription by most pharmacies in Baga, Calangute
    and Anjuna,' the officer said, listing three of the main tourist resorts.

    The Goan Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has been trying to crack
    down on the trade. Over Christmas, it raided an unlicensed medical
    store in Anjuna. Lifecare Medicals was selling huge stocks of ketamine
    and mephentamine, prescription-only drugs, to foreigners.

    Another recent development in Goa is an influx of heroin. One British
    tourist, a 37-year-old jewellery designer from south London, died last
    December with a French companion after they snorted ultra-pure heroin
    bought from a dealer late at night on Anjuna Beach, one of the most
    popular resorts in Goa.

    Another British man, aged 50, was one of five who died of suspected
    heroin overdoses in the Arambol beach area over Christmas. Four others
    died over a span of 10 days in Calungate, the original hippie centre
    of Goa, according to an investigation by Drugscope, a British-based
    drugs charity.

    Relatives of the dead tourists have accused the local authorities in
    Goa of a cover-up. 'They don't seem to care, because these people are
    just seen as foreign junkies, but people should be made aware that
    highly concentrated heroin is being sold, otherwise the deaths will
    continue,' the sister of one British victim said.

    But Seva Dass, Goa's police chief, said that there was 'no heroin' in
    Goa. 'There is a problem with some drugs, mainly cannabis, but not
    with heroin,' he said.

    Long-term residents say the government is playing down the problem to
    protect the tourist trade - two million holidaymakers visited the
    state last year, including 100,000 Britons. 'There is a fear it will
    affect tourism,' said Roland Martins, who runs a community resource
    centre in Goa.

    Just four drug-related deaths are shown on police records for 2003,
    though some officers say the true figure is far larger. One forensic
    science specialist said the majority of post-mortems he conducts 'show
    a reasonable suspicion of drug overdose'.

    Locals look back on Goa's 'freak' days with nostalgia. 'There was pot
    and some LSD and the glazed-eyed foreigners intrigued us,' said
    Anselmo Dias, who runs the Starway shack an Baga, a fishing village.
    'Now we are deep in the world of drug abuse.'

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