Following the Irish illicit drug market

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  • Published: Mar 25, 2014
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: UV/Vis Spectroscopy / X-ray Spectrometry / Proteomics / Infrared Spectroscopy / Raman / Chemometrics & Informatics / Atomic / NMR Knowledge Base / Base Peak / MRI Spectroscopy

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State scientists in Ireland have examined the quality of heroin and cocaine seizures over two years so that they can track the changes and see how quality affects price on the illicit drug market.

"Of particular interest to Irish legal proceedings is whether purity plays a role in the pricing of street drugs, since the valuation of drugs has a bearing on the sentencing and type of charge brought against a person selling illicit drugs," said Hugh Coyle of the Forensic Science Laboratory at Garda Headquarters in Dublin. To this end, the research team used GC/MS to analyse street-level cocaine and heroin samples that were seized between 2010 and 2012 and correlated the level of the active components with pricing data from the National Drugs Unit.

Writing in Drug Testing and Analysis, they descried how the purity of seized heroin samples fell by nearly 50% over the two-year period, dropping from an average of 47% in 2010 to 24% in 2012. At the same time, the proportion of adulterated samples rose from 67% to 100%, with caffeine and paracetamol the principal adulterants, generally found together in a sample. The price of the drugs correlated with the weight of the powder sold, the driving factor being the amount of drug rather than the “perceived quality.”

In the case of cocaine, the purity was roughly constant over the period, averaging 15, 19 and 17% in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Most samples contained at least two adulterants, the most common being the drugs lignocaine, levamisole hydrochloride, phenacetin, caffeine and benzocaine. The pricing relationships were less clear because most packs of cocaine cost roughly the same.

Apart from supplying intelligence on the price relationships, this kind of analysis provides strong intelligence on the state of the illicit drug market which, by definition, is difficult to monitor.

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