The identification of drugs of abuse in the Republic of Ireland during the years 1968-1978

Sections

Abstract
Results

Details

Author: Desmond CORRIGAN
Pages: 57 to 60
Creation Date: 1979/01/01

The identification of drugs of abuse in the Republic of Ireland during the years 1968-1978

Desmond CORRIGAN
Department of Pharmacognosy, School of Pharmacy, Trinity College, Dublin 4, Ireland

Abstract

A survey of the composition of 4,933 exhibits submitted for laboratory analysis by the Drug Squad of the Irish police during the years 1968-1978 indicated an increase in the level of non-medical drug consumption in the Republic of Ireland. Cannabis was the most widely encountered drug. Barbiturates constituted a considerable proportion. Amphetamines were rarely found; this was attributed to the unique legislation controlling the storage and sale of amphetamines. Various substances were sold as drugs of abuse. For example, Datura was sold as cannabis which caused a considerable concern because of its toxicity.

The recognition of a drug-related problem of some significance in Ireland during 1968 led to the formation of a drug squad in the Irish police. Since that time a total of 4,933 exhibits arising from arrests and drug seizures have been submitted for laboratory analyses. These exhibits ranged from "normal" pharmaceutical formulations (tablets, ampoules, etc.) to unknown powders and a large number of more unusual items (table 1). The drugs were identified using an appropriate combination of microscopic, chromatographic and spectroscopic techniques [ (1)] , [ (2)] .

Results

The composition of the samples submitted is shown in percentages for each year in table 2. There was a steady increase in the number of exhibits each year. The number may appear small by comparison with other countries [ (3)] , [ (4)] , [ (5)] but it must be borne in mind that the population of the Republic of Ireland is approximately 3.5 million. The increase may be partly due to an increase in illicit drug use and to an increase in the strength and experience of the Drug Squad which had 4 members in 1968 rising to 15 members at the present time.

The most widely encountered drug was cannabis. Various forms of cannabis were found. In 1978, 43 per cent of the cannabis seized was resin; 36 per cent of the exhibits consisted of cigarette ends, pipes and weighing scales. Cannabis herb constituted 21 per cent of the cannabis exhibits. In recent years a significant proportion (37 per cent) of this herb has been of Irish origin and has contained active tetrahydrocannabinol.

TABLE 1 - Unusual items submitted for analyses

Exhibit

Analytical findings

Currency notes
Traces of cannabis
Books
Cannabis resin
Felt tip pens
Cannabis resin
Cables
Traces of cannabis
Soft toys
Cannabis resin
Weighing scales
Traces of cannabis
Syringes
Various drugs
Spoons
Various drugs
Bottle top
Dipipanone tablets in solution
Postage stamps
LSD
Record covers
Cocaine

TABLE 2 Composition of the samles of the dangerous drugs seized from 1968 - 1978 in the Republic of Ireland (In percentages)

 

1968

1969

1970

1971

1972

1973

1974

1975

1976

1977 1978
Cannabis
21 8 46 57 47 67 55 61 61 60 67
Cocaine
3 3
1*
-
1*
1*
1*
3
1*
1*
1
Heroin
-
4
1 *
2 6
1*
1*
1*
1*
1*
1*
Morphine
3 39 5 1 7 1 4 4 3 4 2
Opium
-
1*
-
1*
1*
1*
1*
1 1
-
1*
Dextro-moramide
-
-
1
1*
2
1*
3 2
1*
2 1
Dipipanone .
-
-
2 5
1 *
1*
1*
2
1*
2 2
Methadone .
-
1 4
1*
2
1*
3 1
1*
2 1
Pethidine
23 13 4
1*
2
1*
3 1
1*
2 1
Amphe-tamines
-
-
1 1
1*
1*
1*
-
1*
1*
1*
Barbiturates
1
1*
1
1*
6 8 10 5 7 3  
LSD .
-
1*
6 8 4 5 3 2 1
1*
1*
Metha-qualone
-
-
-
1*
1 2 1
1*
2 1
1*
Methyl-phenidate
-
-
-
-
-
-
1*
 
1*
   
"Negative" results
27 29 18 24 20 15 15 14 19 22 19
No. of exhibits
52 142 187 310 580 464 684 638 495 657 784

Less than 1 per cent.

Other drugs appear to present less of a problem. Fortunately heroin has been rarely encountered. Amphetamine type drugs constituted a very minor part of the drug scene in Ireland. This is in contrast to Sweden where Stromberg and Other drugs appear to present less of a problem. Fortunately heroin has been rarely encountered. Amphetamine type drugs constituted a very minor part of the drug scene in Ireland. This is in contrast to Sweden where Stromberg and Maehly reported (4) that in a two - month period 65 per cent of the exhibits submitted for analysis contained an amphetamine type drug. The situation in Ireland is unusual in view of the reports on amphetamine dependence [ (6)] . The improvement is due to the unique legislation dealing with the sale of amphetamines in Ireland [ (7)] . These drugs may only be obtained by means of a special licence through a central Health Board Pharmacy and not through other pharmacies. This legislation has undoubtedly reduced the incidence of amphetamine abuse which is in contrast to the situation with barbiturates. The abuse of these parenterally or orally in combination with alcohol constitutes a significant problem [ (8)] . The supply of barbiturates is obtained through thefts from pharmacies and through the use of forged prescriptions. The application of amphetamine type controls to these drugs could reduce the incidence of abuse and the associated risk of fatalities.

As other laboratories dealing with drugs of abuse, this laboratory received a large number of exhibits each of them containing either a non-controlled drug, or a harmless substance, or a drug of abuse, The level of "negative" results in this laboratory was roughly comparable with those reported elsewhere [ (3)] . An analysis of the types of substances in these "negative" exhibits can often be informative as to possible trends. For example, an increasing number of benzodiazepine derivatives (fluorazepam, diazepam) are being submitted. This may indicate abuse potential or misidentification by the police. There is also the possibility that these are medicines legally prescribed for the persons possessing them.

Many of the materials which were sold as drugs of abuse were harmless (table 3); for example, water for injection sold as morphine, and parsley sold as cannabis. Others, however, were extremely dangerous. The use of Datura preparations as a substitute for cannabis is growing and has resulted in numerous reports in the literature describing the treatment of atropine poisoning and the hallucinations which follow the consumption of these preparations [ (9)] . A more serious problem concerns a recent case where a sample of powder was purchased as methylamphetamine while on analysis this was found to be heroin. This has been an isolated occurrence so far.

TABLE 3 - Materials which have been sold as drugs of abuse

Substance submitted as

Substance identified as

Cannabis
Parsley
Cannabis
Henna (Lawsonia alba)
Cannabis
Coffee
Cannabis
Datura stramoniurn
Cannabis
Meat extract
Hash oil
Oil of patchouli
Amphetamine tablets
Starch tablets
Amphetamine
Sodium Cromoglycate (Intal)
Methylamphetamine
Pseudoephedrine
Methylamphetamine
Diacetylmorphine
Mescaline
Methylamphetamine
Cocaine
Benzocaine
Cocaine
Lignocaine
LSD
Saccharin tablets
LSD
Lentils
Morphine ampoules
Water for injection
Peyote
Ginger (Zingiber spp)

In the years 1968-1978 Ireland has seen a dramatic increase in the nonmedical use of drugs as have many other countries. However, Ireland has been relatively fortunate in that the more dangerous drugs of abuse are not as widely used as in some other countries. An enlightened policy of education and legislation should assist in controlling the situation.

References

001

D. Corrigan and J.J. Lynch. A histochemical test for Cannabis sativa L. Planta Medica , 33, 269-70, 1978.

002

E.G.C. Clarke. Isolation and Identification of Drugs, Vols. 1 and 2. The Pharmaceutical Press, London.

003

D.W. Johnson and J.W. Gunn. Dangerous Drugs: Adulterants, Diluents and

000

Deception in street samples, J. Forens. Sci. 17 , 629-39, 1972.

004

L. Stromberg and A.C. Maehly. The narcotics situation in Sweden: Seizures and analysis. J. Anal. Toxicol. 2 , 7-12, 1978.

005

W.D.C. Wilson. Metropolitan Police Forensic Science Laboratory, London. Personal communication.

006

Report of the Working Party on Drug Abuse. Government Stationery Office, Dublin

1971

1971.

007

R.F. Timoney. Control of Amphetamines in the Republic of Ireland. J. Irish Med. Ass. 65 , 57-61, 1972.

008

M.G. Kelly and F. Sammon. Some characteristics of Drug Abusers attending a Drug Treatment Centre in Dublin . J. Irish Med. Ass. 68, 121-25, 1975.

009

A. Ballantyne, P. Lippiett and J. Park. Herbal cigarettes for kicks. Brit. Med. J ., 1539-40, 1976.