HIPPIE PARADISE TAKEN OVER BY UK TRAFFICKERS
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
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.'