Note: It's not clear from this article exactly when the raids occurred. - gn2osis
Dawn raids mark crash of online designer drugs trade
Trail of electronic data from US websites leads to convictions for Britons buying psychedelic drugs on net
Thursday May 26, 2005
Police have arrested and prosecuted more than 22 British customers of websites
selling class A designer drugs online after a trail of electronic
evidence from busted websites in the US led police to addresses across
The psychedelics drugs, known euphemistically as "research chemicals", have
been sold for several years openly on the internet from websites based
in the US. The US drug enforcement administration shut down the sites
and arrested the owners last year after two deaths, and several cases
of people needing hospital treatment in the US, were linked to the use
of chemicals bought online.
Customer records and credit-card details extracted from seized computers were passed on to the national crime squad in the UK.
Once investigators had verified the intelligence, details were sent out to
police forces. In a countrywide action, named Operation Ismene, the
police carried out dawn raids in 14 counties, including Avon and
Somerset, Greater Manchester, and Leicestershire. Court cases this
month saw several people given fines or community service.
A variety of synthetic drugs were confiscated in the raids, including
2C-I, a new psychedelic drug growing in popularity on the UK dance
scene and described as "the new ecstasy". </font>
Frequently "research chemicals" have euphoric and visual effects similar to that
caused by mescaline, ecstasy (also known as MDMA) and LSD. The majority
do not have street names and are known only by their abbreviated lab
names, such as 5-Meo-DMT, 2-CT-2, and AMT. Most are too powerful
psychedelically to catch on with users or dealers, and have only been
available via the internet.
The burgeoning online trade in these chemicals was first revealed in the
Guardian last year. The trade has flourished in the past five years as
law enforcement has struggled to keep ahead of fast-moving technology.
Online outfits have been able to create a worldwide customer base for
designer drugs by subverting the infrastructure laid down by legitimate
e-commerce such as international couriers and online credit-card
At the same time, chemists working "underground" routinely synthesise new
drugs to slip through the gaps in international drugs legislation.
The trade only came to the broad attention of US law enforcers after a
death in Louisiana last year. In March 2004, James Downs, 22, died
after an accidental overdose of powdered 2-CT-21 he ordered online.
Police investigating his death traced his purchases to a Las Vegas
"research chemicals" website (americanchemicalsupply.com), one of
several professional operations importing such chemicals from labs in
China and India. The websites were shutdown in a US-wide sting in July
2004 known as Operation Web Tryp.
Court documents have revealed the extent, sophistication and success of these
e-businesses. Each website had thousands of customers in the US and
Europe. The public was able to order a selection of drugs with
"one-click" systems of payment via credit card or Paypal. Ordered drugs
were delivered next day by Fedex and other carriers. </font>
Some sites traded openly while others were more clandestine. All the
websites, including those mentioned here, have been closed down now.
RacResearch.com, based in New York, ran a slick modern site offering broad selections of
up to 20 drugs with free sample packs for first-time customers. Adverts
for the site appeared on Google. Another site - www.pondman.nu
- appeared to be selling fish and pond supplies but was a sophisticated
e-commerce drug operation. Police estimate some sites were making
around $20,000 (about £11,000) a week.
So-called research chemicals are not officially listed as controlled substances
under US drugs laws. However, the website operators were prosecuted
under a law that prohibits the possession and supply of chemicals
"substantially similar" to controlled drugs. All the operators face
likely life sentences. Several have been charged additionally with
causing death or serious injury.
Last week the operator of pondman.nu - 52-year-old David Linder - was found
guilty on 27 charges, including drug conspiracy and money laundering.
He was sentenced to a total of 410 years in prison. He was also ordered
to pay back $700,000 (£389,000) in profits from the website. The
severity of his sentence was related in part to the death of an
18-year-old man in New York who overdosed on the drug
alpha-methyltryptamine (AMT) purchased from Linder's site. </font>
Deaths caused by research chemicals, however, appear to be isolated tragedies.
Like ecstasy, most of the chemicals seem to be physically harmless at
low or average doses. The underground websites documenting their use
advise extreme caution. Despite glowing reports of "wow" type
experiences, the site Erowid.org carries the disclaimer: "It is not
reasonable to assume that these chemicals are in any way 'safe' to use
Because the recommended dosages can vary by as little as a thousandths of a
gram, a slight miscalculation can trigger an overdose. When smoked,
just 2mg (a dose smaller than a grain of salt) of the potent chemical
5-MeO-DMT can cause a short-lived but powerful "trip". Heavy doses, or
overdoses, have been known to trigger undesirable physical and
psychological symptoms including profound anxiety, "bad trips",
overheating of the body, and even death.
Thanks to the psychedelic intensity of these drugs, few of the chemicals have
made it as street or club drugs. Their use is generally championed by
"psychonauts", drug hobbyists, usually young men, who experiment alone
or in small groups, exchanging information online.
Many of those arrested in the UK seem to have fallen into this category.
Among those arrested have been students, primary-school workers and
people running lifestyle drugs outfits. They were not primarily career
criminals or drug dealers. Although initially arrested on suspicion of
intent to supply, many saw their charges altered to simple possession.
The national crime squad would not comment yesterday on whether there would be more arrests.
The UK has the strictest laws in the EU on designer drugs. The Misuse Of
Drugs Act was amended in 2002 to include a "catch most" clause
outlawing every drug, and possible future drug, from the LSD
(tryptamine) and ecstasy (phenethylamine) chemical families. The
amendment is a virtual cut-and-paste from the books of the respected
American biochemist Alexander Shulgin, who obtained a PhD from the
University of California, Berkeley. Dr Shulgin, a former research
chemist at the Dow Chemical Company, re-discovered the recipe for MDMA
in 1976 and published the recipes for more than 170 designer drugs of
his own invention.
While research chemicals are still available from websites in China, India
and Japan, the illicit online drugs trade has gone underground as law
enforcers have become more skilled at tracking hi-tech crime. "A drug
supply route between the US and the UK has been dismantled," said Jim
Gamble, deputy director-general of the national crime squad. "Anyone
considering purchasing drugs online should think again, the crime squad
and other law enforcement agencies will track you down."
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