Unpredictable new drug cocktails spark warning
New research by James Cook University scientists has found many illicit drugs are being laced with harmful substances, including designer drugs, that could have unpredictable and deadly effects on users.
The scientists are backing calls for action to increase awareness of adulterants in commonly used illicit drugs and for their detection before illicit drugs are consumed.
JCU researchers, in collaboration with Queensland Health’s Forensic and Scientific Services, examined the chemical composition of more than 9000 samples of 11 types of illicit drugs seized by Queensland police during 2015-2016.
JCU’s Professor Alan Clough said many commonly-used illicit drugs such as methamphetamine were found to be contaminated or deliberately cut with what scientists call novel psychoactive substances (NPS), otherwise known as designer drugs.
“The samples contained 52 impurities, a surprising array. We found methamphetamine, for instance, was cut with common recreational drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine and heroin, but also with complex NPS such as 25C-NBOMe, a strong hallucinogen which can have serious toxic and even lethal effects,” he said.
Professor Clough said the potency of NPS can be high and not much is known about how they work, especially in conjunction with other substances. Users are likely unaware of the mix of drugs they take, with combinations and levels likely to be inconsistent from batch to batch, and the user can be caught off guard by unexpected symptoms.
“In particular, there needs to be a focus on ecstasy, meth and opioids, where several varieties of NPS and other high potency additives were found, and in cocaine, GHB, and the hallucinogen 2C-B, where up to 70% of all seized samples were highly adulterated drug cocktails,” he said.
Professor Clough said some mixes found were unique to Queensland, with five methamphetamine samples testing positive for an anti-psychotic drug and two ecstasy samples containing a drug used to combat erectile dysfunction. Cocaine was commonly mixed with an animal de-worming treatment.
“The frequency of NPS occurrence is currently much lower than that of other impurities, but will probably rise as the use of NPS in designer cocktails becomes more prevalent here as we have already seen in Europe,” he said.
Professor Clough said trials of pill testing conducted at music festivals have revealed dangerous substances to consumers.
“The contribution of pill testing programs to public health is potentially very significant. They provide great opportunities to raise awareness of the presence of impurities in primary drugs and to encourage safer drug using practices generally,” he said.
Professor Alan Clough