Police, politicians and doctors are warning that a relatively new street drug called doda is becoming more common across Canada, and not enough is being done to stop its trade.
Just this week, Peel Police seized $2.5 million worth of doda during raids in Brampton, Mississauga and Toronto.
Last fall, an RCMP drug unit raided a large manufacturer in Surrey, B.C., the "first large-scale seizure" of doda in the province.
And last month, officers in Calgary seized 13 kilograms of crushed doda powder, issuing at the same time a "wake-up call" that use of the drug is likely to continue to spread.
Doda, or dode, has been around for decades in Afghanistan, India, and other parts of southern Asia, but its appeared in Canada only within the last decade or two, largely confined to the black market in Indo-Canadian communities.
Doda often called "the poor man's heroin" because it's a narcotic derived from the same plant: the opium poppy.
The drug is produced by grinding up dried poppy pods and then using the powder either to make a tea or simply stirring it into a glass or cold water.
The drug produces similar, though milder, effects as other opiates, such as feelings of relaxation and calm. Since the drug isn't injected or snorted, it's difficult to overdose. But doda is an opiate like morphine, codeine and heroin, and as such, is highly addictive, meaning users will crave more and won't be able to stop using it without the help of a doctor.
Peel's medical officer of health Dr. David Mowat recently told CTV Toronto that physicians who specialize in addiction are reporting more and more cases of doda addiction to him.
"They say they're seeing a lot of people who are having problems with this drug: problems with work, sleeping, withdrawal symptoms, family and problems," he said.
"There's a concern that people don't really know what they are consuming. People don't know that this is a morphine derivative."
Mowat said the term doda is used loosely and some people think because the drug is milder than heroin that it's harmless.
"They find out, unfortunately, later, that it's very far from harmless," he said.
Doda has been used as a drug in Canada for about a decade with most of its users being South Asian men, usually taxis drivers, truck drivers and factory workers.
For years, doda existed in a legal grey area because tests failed to show it contained enough opiates to be classifies as a drug. But that has since changed and with this week's bust in Peel Region, police took the opportunity to remind people that doda is an illegal substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Brampton City Councillor Vicky Dhillon says doda is often sold through South Asian butcher shops and other marketplaces, but he says it has spread to other users in recent years.
"There are new sellers every day. There are new guys coming out, selling this product. And my concern was when i saw this going in the high schools, that high school kids are starting to use it," he told CTV Toronto.
The biggest obstacle to cracking down on the doda trade, insists Dhillon is that the drug enters the country not as a powder but as a dried flower to be used for legal purposes, such as in floral arrangements.
Dhillon has been campaigning for almost two years to have Canadian health officials work with U.S. officials to ban the importation of the poppy pods and doda from North America.
March 20, 2010
Video can be found at Police, doctors warn of the growing use of 'doda'