Dangers of illegal drugs

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THERE is a reason why drugs, the illicit kind, are equated to being a menace. Its wanton consumption threatens and ultimately destroys the very fabric of society and herein lies the danger.

Unlike prescription drugs which promote well-being, illicit drugs seize control of one’s mind and body to their detriment.

We have been told that people abuse drugs for many reasons — either to fit in with a group, out of curiosity or boredom, and often because they help one escape from reality for a while.

It is said that a drug might temporarily make someone who is sad or upset, feel better or forget about problems. However, this escape lasts only until the drug wears off.

Over the years this fact has been underscored by the authorities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs)and health experts around the world, that drugs do not solve problems and that using them would cause other problems on top of the problems a person had in the first place.

Someone who uses drugs can become dependent on them or addicted. This means that the person’s body becomes so accustomed to having this drug that he or she cannot function well without it.

When the addiction kicks in, it will be hard to stop taking drugs ad doing so can cause withdrawal symptoms such as vomiting, sweating, and body tremors, much of which will continue until the body gets adjusted to being drug-free again.

Here are the details of illicit drugs used throughout the world, methods of consumption and health threats as well as about countries involved in the illegal drug trade.

Types of illicit drugs

According to the WebMD website there are 12 common illicit drugs in the world:

Bath salts Photo: Courtesy of Chemistry World

• Synthetic cathinones also known as Bath Salts

This highly addictive drug comes in a crystalline powder that users swallow, inhale, or inject. It contains man-made stimulants which are similar to amphetamines.

The stimulants increase levels of dopamine, a brain chemical that can create feelings of euphoria.

The medical website says the effects are similar to cocaine or methamphetamines, however, they are more likely to cause serious health effects including violence, paranoia, hallucinations, high blood pressure, panic attacks, kidney failure and death.

Cocaine. Photo: Courtesy of Chemistry World

Cocaine

A powerful addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. It comes in different forms; a user can snort the powder type through their nose or inject it into their bloodstream.

Taking cocaine triggers the brain to release dopamine and creates a euphoric feeling. The high is intense but short-lived, which leads people to use it repeatedly to try and keep the feeling going.

WebMD notes that the risks of consuming this drug can lead to increased heart rate and body temperature, loss of appetite, heart attack, nausea, death as well as higher risk of HIV and Hepatitis C due to sharing of needles or equipment.

Ecstasy. Photo: Courtesy of The Irish Times

• Ecstasy also known as MDMA or Molly

This man-made stimulant and hallucinogen, is often taken orally in pill form. Users can also snort it or inject it into a vein.

Taking this drug increases levels of several chemicals in the brain including serotonin and dopamine. It alters the users’ mood and they get a sense of euphoria and a boost in energy. Once the drug wears off, it can lead to confusion, depression, anxiety and sleep problems.

The risks can lead to increased blood pressure and heart rate, nausea, blurred vision, dizziness, sweating and tense muscles.

• Flakka also referred to as Gravel

This designer drug contains synthetic cathinone, just like bath salts. It is a pale-hued crystal that users eat, snort, inject, or vaporize using an e-cigarette device.

WebMD states that the drug has a stimulant-like effect but it can cause paranoia, hallucinations and can lead to violence or self-harm. It has been linked to deaths due to heart attack, suicide and kidney failure.

Heroin. Photo: Courtesy of Continuum Recovery Center of Colorado.

• Heroin

This drug injected, inhaled or smoked by users, is an opioid derived from the poppy flower. It comes as a white or tan powder, or a black sticky substance known as ‘black tar heroin’.

The drug is rapidly absorbed into the brain, which makes it highly addictive. Users will experience a rush of euphoria followed by dry mouth, a heaviness sensation in the arms and legs, and a fuzzy mind.

The medical website says heroin use can be deadly.

It can lead to collapsed veins, skin infections, kidney disease, suppressed breathing — leading cause of coma, brain damage and death.

• Krokodil

This opioid drug is used widely in Russia, especially among young adults as a cheaper alternative to heroin. Users inject it into the bloodstream and it has a rapid and brief effect.

According to WebMD, it is a man-made form of morphine and about 10 times stronger. It is a combination of several harmful chemicals including codeine, iodine, gasoline, paint thinner, lighter fluid and others.

The reason why it is called Krokodil, is the crocodile-like appearance it creates on the skin. Over time, it damages blood vessels and causes the skin to become green and scaly. The tissue damage can lead to gangrene and result in amputation or death.

• LSD also known as Acid

This hallucinogen-type drug is still commonly used in today’s world. It’s made from an acid found in a fungus that grows on rye or other grains.

It causes the user to see, hear, and feel things that seem real, but aren’t. These hallucinations called “trips” can last as long as 12 hours.

Taking LSD can cause physical effects such as dilated pupils, increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, less appetite, dry mouth and shakiness.

Marijuana. Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images

• Marijuana also known as Ganja, Weed, Grass

This drug refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds of the hemp (Cannabis sativa) plant. Most users smoke marijuana but it can also be added to foods (baked into cookies) and eaten.

The medical website states that it can act as both a stimulant and a depressant, and even a hallucinogen.

Marijuana contains the THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) chemical which creates the “high” on different parts of the body that users experience,namely, changes in sensation, mood, body movements, thinking and memory.

WebMD states that when it is used regularly, it can affect brain development and lead to cognitive problems. Aside from that, it can cause serious health problems such as breathing issues, increased heart rate, higher risk of heart attacks, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Methamphetamine/Syabu. Photo: Courtesy of NZ Drug Foundation

• Methamphetamines also known as Crystal Meth, Crank, Syabu

Meth, a stimulant drug, is a white powder made from a combination of pseudoephedrine (a common ingredient in cold medications) along with other toxic chemicals.

Users who swallow, smoke, snort or inject meth, will experience an immediate high that quickly fades. Which is why users often take it repeatedly thus making it extremely addictive.

The physical effects are very similar to other stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines — increased breathing, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure and increased body temperature.

“With repeated long-term use, meth can lead to extreme weight loss, skin sores, and severe dental issues. Chronic abusers often suffer from anxiety, confusion, insomnia, hallucinations and delusions, and paranoia. Injecting the drug can raise the risk of getting HIV or hepatitis when sharing needles and other equipment,” says the medical website.

• Mushrooms also known as Little Smoke, Magic Mushrooms, Shrooms

Psilocybin and peyote mushrooms are eaten, brewed in a tea, or added to foods to get a high (hallucinations). It is reported that though cravings may occur, physical dependence is not usually present with hallucinogens.

WebMD states that the effects start within 20 minutes of consumption and can last as long as six hours.

Similar to LSD, mushrooms can cause hallucinations, an altered perception of time, and an inability to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not.

Using them for a long time can cause panic, psychosis, or flashbacks. Aside from that, they can also cause extreme pupil dilation, nausea and vomiting.

• Salvia also known as Magic Mint, Sally-D, Sage of the Seers

This hallucinogen drug is a herb in the mint family, that is native to parts of Mexico. Users will chew or smoke its leaves to create intense but short-lived effects, that start within five to 10 minutes and last about 30 minutes.

According to WebMD, the hallucinogenic effects include changes in vision, mood, emotions, and body sensations. However, little is known about the health effects of salvia, though animal studies show it may have an impact on learning and memory.

• Spice also known as Fake Weed, K2, Zohai, Skunk

This synthetic cannabinoid drug, is a mixture of different herbs and chemicals and users either smoke it like marijuana or make it into a herbal tea-like drink.

WebMD reports that the effects are feeling happier and more relaxed. However, it can also lead to stronger effects like severe anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, rapid heart rate, vomiting, confusion, seizures and increased blood pressure.

Methods of drug consumption

The public’s basic knowledge on drug consumption methods, is usually obtained from watching drug documentaries or television shows depicting how individuals take drugs, which is by swallowing, smoking, snorting, injecting and through suppositories.

According to Gallus Medical Detox Centers, those are the five methods of consumption and they also give a rundown on how it works and its risks.

“Ingesting or swallowing drugs is the most common method of drug use,” its states in its website.

“ The individual takes the drugs by mouth. The drugs pass to the stomach and then into the bloodstream.

“Meanwhile, smoking gets the drugs into the body’s system a bit faster than swallowing as the smoke goes into the lungs where it quickly moves into the bloodstream.

“Individuals who smoke drugs, are at risk of cancer of the mouth, throat and lung; heart disease and cardiac arrest, stroke, emphysema and bronchitis, pneumonia and other pulmonary disorders and hypertension.”

The third method is snorting — some individuals snort drugs and it enters into the bloodstream through the nasal mucus membranes and through the stomach. They will experience the drug sensation within 15 minutes.

However, there are a number of complications to snorting drugs. For example, deterioration of the lining of the nasal cavity and the septum can occur and the sharing of straws and other items to snort the drugs can lead to Hepatitis C and HIV.

The center said the fourth method is by injecting. This is the fastest method to achieve a high from drug use because it puts the drug directly into the bloodstream.

“Individuals can inject drugs into the soft tissue, into the muscle or directly into the vein. They will then experience a high within three to five seconds.

“In turn, this method of drug delivery goes directly to the brain, escaping the body’s natural defense mechanisms including the digestive system.

“The dangers that come with injecting drugs include infection at the site of injection and a risk of HIV and hepatitis from sharing needles. Some individuals may experience collapsing veins and arterial damage which can lead to gangrene, thrombosis and haemorrhaging.”

Gallus Medical Detox Centers said the fifth method of drug consumption is not a common one and it is through suppositories. Drugs that enter into the body through this method are delivered into the bloodstream through the rectum’s mucus membrane.

It is said that the mucus membranes in the rectum are sensitive and certain drugs that have high level of acidity, can cause the lining to be permanently damaged as well as a risk of perforating the lower colon which can be fatal.

Several countries are involved in drug trade

WHEN it comes to countries involved in the drug trade, people usually point to South American countries like Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and others as the source of drugs. They are not wrong but there are other countries involved in the drug trade such as Mexico, Hong Kong, Philippines, Indonesia and so on, as reported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan and Myanmar. Photo: Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

• Opium — Afghanistan and Myanmar (two largest opium producers in Asia)

Afghanistan

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, drug lords in Afghanistan have slowly worked their way towards becoming the world’s leading illicit producer of opium. More than 90 percent of the world’s opium is produced in the country, a major part of The Golden Crescent, the name given to Asia’s principal area of illicit opium production covering Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.

According to a report titled Opium and Afghanistan: Reassessing U.S. Counter-narcotics Strategy by John A. Glaze, it is believed that the opium trade flourishes in Afghanistan as the Afghan government officials was said to be involved in at least 70 percent of opium trafficking in the country.

Last year, the Afghanistan Opium Survey was released by UNODC. In its executive summary, it said there was a 37 percent increase in opium poppy cultivation in the country. The total area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan was approximately 224,000 hectares in 2020, an increase of 61,000 hectares compared to 2019.

From the collected data, it is reported that the potential opium production was estimated at 6,300 metric tons.

Myanmar

The country also known as Burma, is a pillar of the so-called Golden Triangle, one of two main areas of illicit opium production which include Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand. It is the world’s second-largest producer of opium and the main supplier for most of East and Southeast Asia.

Run by a military junta, Myanmar’s government has been on paper trying to eradicate opium production. However, its senior officials have been persistently reported to be involved in the drug trade and drug money continues to pour into government coffers.

But UNODC in a report titled Myanmar Opium Survey 2020 released in February this year, confirmed that production and demand for opium have further declined as the region’s synthetic drug market continues to expand and diversify.

Figures show the country’s opium output falling steadily since 2014, down to 405 metric tons of opium produced last year (2020).

Meanwhile, the area of opium poppy cultivation declined by 11 percent from 33,100 in 2019 to 29,500 hectares last year.

However, in May this year, the UN agency says the falling trend is likely to reverse as more farmers and out-of-work laborers turn to tending poppy to make ends meet.

Cocaine cultivation in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Photo: courtesy of AFP

• Cocaine — Colombia, Peru, Bolivia (three biggest producers of cocaine in the world)

Colombia

Although the Medellin and Cali cartels, which came close to making Colombia a narco-state in the 1990s, may no longer exist, Colombia remains the world’s top producer of cocaine, with 70 percent of the world’s coca leaves grown there, accounting for approximately 90 percent of the world’s cocaine processing market.

The country continues its reign at the top of the cocaine trade because smaller and more nimble organisations have sprung in the Medellin and Cali cartels’ place, most notably the Norte del Valle Cartel, or North Valley Cartel.

The North Valley Cartel is widely considered as one of the most powerful organisations in the illegal drug trade, it is said to be employing the services of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) to protect its cartel’s drug routes, laboratories and its members and associates.

According to UNODC, Colombia reduced the area occupied by coca crops to 143,000 hectares last year, down from 154,000 hectares in 2019. Despite their coca crop reduction, their production rose eight percent to 1,228 metric tons, up from 1,137 metric tons in 2019.

Peru

Peru is the second biggest producer of cocaine in the world, Historically, Peruvian farmers have been growing coca, the raw ingredient for cocaine, since before Spain colonised the country. They continue to do so, considering that coca itself is legal, but making cocaine from it, is not.

Studies have shown that as much as 90 percent of that coca goes to the production of cocaine, a fact which contributes greatly to the growth of a multibillion-dollar shadow economy in the country.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) last month said that in 2020, the area of coca cultivation in Peru hit a record level of 88,200 hectares with 810 metric tons of cocaine being produced. Since 2010, Peru’s cultivation and production have been on the rise.

Bolivia

Ranking third behind Colombia and Peru in cocaine production is Bolivia, which allocated 28,900 hectares of its land to coca production in 2007, which is more than double allowed by Bolivian law.

That being said, the leniency towards coca growing is hardly surprising, considering that the former Bolivia president (2006 – 2019), Evo Morales, did not only farm coca himself during his youth but was also head of Bolivia’s coca growers’ association before he assumed office as the 65th president of the country. The production of coca in the country has grown steadily since Morales took office.

The White House ONDCP stated that Bolivia’s coca cultivation totalled 39,400 hectares in 2020, a slight decrease of about seven percent since 2019. Whereas, its commensurate cocaine production potential is at 312 metric tons.

• Methamphetamine

(Shan State, Myanmar)

Myanmar specifically Shan State, is the world’s leading producer of methamphetamine as production has shifted to Yaba and crystalline the Pacific.

Given the accelerating synthetic drug production in the region, the Cantonese Chinese syndicate Sam Gor, also known as The Company, is understood to be the main international crime syndicate responsible for this shift.

In 2019, UNODC estimated that drug syndicate made up of members of five different triads: 14K, Bamboo Union, Big Circle Boys, Sun Yee On and Wo Shing Wo, earned as much as USD17 billion (RM72.08 billion) from trafficking drugs in 2018.

It is also said that the syndicate drove a rapid expansion of crystal-methamphetamine trafficking in the region, which increased fourfold in the five years to 2019.

Aside from that, the syndicate also manufactured heroin and has been a major player in the global market for MDMA, a euphoric party drug also known as Ecstasy.

Is Malaysia, or for that matter Sarawak, involved in the illegal drug trade?

Well, authorities have confirmed that the country is not known to be a drug producing or manufacturing country but is a key transit hub from which drugs are distributed to a host of other countries.

Sarawak Narcotics Criminal Investigation Department (NCID) chief ACP Jasmirol Jamaluddin in an exclusive interview with New Sarawak Tribune, emphasised that the country is not producing or manufacturing drugs.

He pointed out that the drug often seized in Malaysia is methamphetamine (syabu) followed by marijuana.

Towards this end, Jasmirol revealed that Sarawak would be the only state in the country to acquire advanced technologies to detect who is abusing drugs, all thanks to the government’s efforts to eradicate drugs in the state.

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