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 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.'