Forget the shady figure on the street corner, the best drug bargains can be found online. Katherine Fenech reports.
The growth of online shopping has extended to the illicit drug market, with Perth drug users now turning to the internet get their fix, according to Australia's leading drug research centre.
Curtin University's National Drug Research Institute director, Steve Allsop, said the online trade in synthetic substances, which saw drugs bought online mailed to your door, was almost a cottage industry.
"What we are seeing is more and more people ordering relatively small amounts for themselves and a small number of friends over the internet," Professor Allsop said.
"They are getting it delivered by the postage system and that really is a new challenge for customs and police because you're not dealing with large distribution networks."
Professor Allsop said people were obtaining the illicit substances online either as a way of cutting out the need to find and speak to a dealer, or because they had been misinformed by websites that touted their wares as legal.
"We need to really get our heads around the internet because that's where people get a lot of misinformation," he said.
"They read people on chat rooms saying 'this is wonderful' and then it takes you to a link that offers 100 grams for $50. They see 'organic' and 'herbal' and think it's good for them. Well Belladonna (a hallucinogenic plant) is organic and herbal but you wouldn't take that."
The shift presented a new challenge in combating drug distribution, Professor Allsop said, especially since the synthetic drugs were often legal in the country of the website's origin.
In late October the European Commission called for one such synthetic drug, methylmethcathinone or "Meow Meow", to be outlawed in all European Union countries. It is still available from dealers and the internet in 12 EU countries including Greece, Portugal, The Netherlands and Spain.
"The Commission's proposal would ban the manufacturing and marketing of Meow Meow, submitting it to criminal sanctions all over Europe," the Commission said.
"A scientific evaluation of the risks, carried out by the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction, demonstrated that (Meow Meow) could pose serious health risks and encourage addiction, and that it has no therapeutic value."
WAtoday.com.au found a plethora of websites touting pills that supposedly gave users "legal" highs for as low as $US1 per pill, with other websites offering products purporting to be a "powerful alternative to cocaine".
"Each... dose is comprised by natural products - hallucinogenic herbs as main ingredients, plant extracts and amino acids. They are the main reason why you'll have such a wonderful experience each and every party night now," one website states.
Meow Meow has been blamed for the deaths of two people in Europe and the drug was detected in the post-mortem examinations of 37 people from Britain and Ireland since 2007.
Official figures collated by the Australian Customs and Boarder Protection Service recorded a marked increase in the weight of chemicals used to manufacture amphetamines and ecstasy, seized in Australia in 2008-09 compared to the year before.
In its latest annual report covering 2008-09, the agency uncovered 2098 kilograms of the chemicals in air and sea cargo and international mail, while in 2007-08 it found 1075 kilograms.
However the amount of MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, seized in the same period plummeted from 212.88 kilograms to 12.85 kilograms. The drug was most commonly detected when sent through the mail, but air passengers tended to bring in larger amounts. Almost 80 per cent of the 2008-09 MDMA confiscated was in tablet form, with powder accounting for much of the remainder.
"The reasons for this decrease are complex and include a dynamic market responding to economic and law enforcement pressures such as the record single detection on 28 June, 2007 of some 4.4 tonnes (of ecstasy)," the report said.
Royal Perth Hospital emergency medicine Professor Daniel Fatovich said hospitals had to deal with the dangerous side-effects of drugs purchased online.
"Certainly we have had people come through here who on further inquiry told us that they've bought stuff online from overseas and there are websites you can go to," he said.
"A lot of these drugs when we look into them, we've never even heard of them before so we don't know what they are, let alone what effects they're going to cause apart from what we've seen when they come in."
November 24, 2010
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The internet: a global drug dealer open to all