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Health officials, police issue warning

Do not experiment with dangerous substances, experts urge

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobsrever.com

Sunday, June 24, 2018

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HEALTH and law enforcement authorities are warning potential drug users against experimenting with dangerous substances such as embalming fluid.

For some time, there have been anecdotal and social media reports of gangsters using highly potent concoctions to intoxicate themselves, allegedly prior to committing crimes.

The National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) said on Friday that it had received reports of some people lacing ganja or cigarettes with embalming fluid. The concoction can cause bronchitis, body tissue destruction, brain, lung and kidney damage, impaired coordination, inflammation and sores in the throat, nose and oesophagus, pneumonia and spinal cord destruction. It is also extremely carcinogenic.

The potent cocktail comprises compounds such as formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol, and other solvents.

Acting director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the Ministry of Health, Dr Kevin Goulbourne outlined the grave effects of this mixture at a press conference to highlight this year's International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, which will be observed on June 26 at the Ministry of National Security.

“It's called by various names… it's actually tobacco or marijuana cigarettes soaked in embalming fluid, which is used to preserve the dead. Ganja laced with embalming fluid produces hallucinations, which may [result in] visual or auditory disturbances, a high feeling, a feeling of invincibility, and increased pain tolerance,” he explained, adding that the high can last anywhere from six hours to three days.

“Short-term effects include anger and frustration, depression, headache, impaired vision and coordination, loss of consciousness, memory loss, suspicion, and violence,” he continued.

He also noted: “One of the primary concerns is that, in addition to the potential harmful effects, these emerging drugs consist of some legal substances which may influence the acceptability and accessibility of these drugs.”

In the meantime, director of client services at the NCDA Collette Kirlew also highlighted another emerging drug mixture known as “lean”, which she said is reportedly being used by secondary school students. It is a mixture of prescription-strength cough syrup with codeine, a popular carbonated beverage, and candy.

“When codeine is consumed in large doses or for non-prescriptive purposes it can create extremely harmful effects. Given that the drug is created as a liquid to drink, users can easily lose track of how much of the active drug they have consumed, since the cough syrup is masked by a pleasant or familiar flavours from soda and candy,” she stated.

Dr Goulbourne added that, “what makes it [a] difficult trend that we are facing is that celebrities and professional athletes have been using it, even though it has impacted them negatively”, stressing that it can affect learning. He added that another active ingredient in lean is antihistamine, which in large doses can cause seizures, confusion, wheezing and dizziness.

“Taken with additional substances such as alcohol, it may lead to coma and death,” he said.

Also of concern is the drug Fentanyl. Although there are no reports of its illicit use in Jamaica, the health authority warned those who are experimenting with the drug to stay away from the substance.

“It is 75 times more potent than Morphine. Doctors usually reserve this drug for persons who don't respond to milder pain medication,” he said, pointing out that the drug is highly regulated, but despite this, has made its way on to the streets of the United States.

“It is wreaking havoc in the United States. Among the more than 65,000 drug overdose deaths experienced in the US in 2016, the sharpest increase has been seen among deaths related to Fentanyl, which amounts to more than 20,000 deaths,” he shared.

Dr Goulbourne explained that Fentanyl is abused because of its unique effect, including rapid onset of the much-sought after high, which lasts less than two hours.

“Serious side effects may have life-threatening respiratory distress, low blood pressure, and depression,” he continued.

Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Sheldon Coulson of the police Narcotics Division emphasised that, so far, reports have only been anecdotal, as the police have no evidence to act on.

“What we have is information about the existence of the embalming fluid outside of the funeral homes. What we are trying to ascertain is whether or not this is so, so that we can determine our next move. Is it that persons inside the funeral home are selling the fluid outside? Are they giving access to other persons? For now we have to find out whether or not it exists outside of what people are saying. All we have is the information,” he said.

Coulson said such that an investigation would be challenging, as it would require abusers to cooperate: “Without that we are going to face some challenges.”

Coulson said that the police are working closely with partner agencies to gather intelligence, but “we can't just arrest and determine whether or not we are going to test someone for the use of drugs”.

At the same time, he said the police would use all means to determine whether a suspect was under the influence of drugs in certain crimes.

“We have a responsibility to collect the evidence, and put it before a court,” Coulson stated.

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