The “cutting agents” in drugs today: more dangerous than the drugs themselves

Cocaine and heroin: two very expensive powders that can make drug dealers a whole lot of money, but what if you could make even more money by adding something a little cheaper to your powder? Cutting drugs with other substances is nothing new, but the dangerous chemicals used as cutting agents are even more deadly than the ones that were used two or three decades ago.

Did you think you were buying heroin or cocaine?

When people buy drugs like heroin or cocaine, most of what they are paying for isn’t the drug they were looking for. The Independent reports that while cocaine bought in the eighties was about 80% pure, purity has dropped to 52% today. As for heroin, it could previously have been expected to be about 58% pure, but this has dropped to 35% purity today.

Sometimes, ingredients are just added to stretch the amount, and this can itself be dangerous, but dealers are now adding cheaper drugs with a serious kick and equally serious dangers to the already-dangerous drugs they sell.

Elephant tranquilizer in heroin causes spike in overdoses

Most recently the addition of the powerful synthetic opioid carfentanil to heroin has caused a crisis, as drug users overdose on a drug that is so dangerous that it has been classed as a chemical warfare agent.

The fact that users can have absolutely no idea of what really is in the illegal drugs they buy is part of the problem. And with carfentanil out on the streets, getting your fix has become a dangerous game of Russian roulette for addicts. In just one week, 96 overdose fatalities in Hamilton County, the hardest-hit area so far, were recorded, and carfentanil is believed to be to blame. A similar compound, known as fentanyl is also used.

Scariest of all, getting these banned and highly dangerous substances is all too easy. Investigative journalists contacted several Chinese companies which assured them that they can easily send the deadly opioids by mail. One company’s sales agent blithely referred to carfentanil as a “hot sales product”, and assured the journalists that getting the package past customs would be easy. By tracing IP addresses several companies selling carfentanil and fentanyl online were traced to the US. Carfentanil is 100 times stronger than fentanyl, which is 50 times stronger than heroin.

Cocaine cutting agents kill slowly

Slightly less dramatic, but nevertheless dangerous cutting agents are also used in cocaine. Two thirds of the cocaine available on the streets has been cut with levamisole, an agent used to kill parasitic worms in sheep. The compound eats away at human flesh, destroys the immune system, and has been linked to bladder cancer. A dermatologist who has dealt with patients affected by this agent calls its effects on the human body “similar to having HIV”.

Levamisole is not the most common cutting agent used to stretch cocaine. Most often, phenacetin is used. This painkiller was banned years ago owing to its ability to cause kidney damage and cancer.

In an attempt to allow users to be informed as to what their illegal drugs actually contain, drugs brought to music festivals in the UK were tested with shocking results. Ground up cement and anti-malaria pills were just some of the cutting agents identified.

Should drug use be legalized to protect addicts?

There has been a significant alteration in the public perception of drug users and addicts, with the public beginning to see them as victims of their own actions. Calls for harm reduction interventions are growing stronger. It is possible for people who have made bad choices to reclaim their lives, but not if they are to be killed by dangerous drugs whose potential harm is now enhanced with dangerous pharmaceuticals.

Although some users deliberately seek out drugs that have been “enhanced” with powerful synthetic opioids, most simply aren’t aware of what their illicit substances actually contain. The results can be tragic. According to many analysts, the war on drugs has been a spectacular failure, and a new approach is needed. Already, courts are being asked to use a more lenient approach when dealing with non-violent drug offenders who would be better served by treatment and rehabilitation rather than incarceration.

It is highly unlikely that the US will be following Europe’s legalization or decriminalization example in the next few years, but the move towards providing treatment for addiction rather than punishment is certainly a positive one.

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