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of accidental heroin overdose through uncertain purity
of illicit powders has long been an major hazard for
users, with casual users most at risk, rather than dependent
addicts who have developed tolerance to the drug effects.
to popular belief, heroin is rarely cut with impurities
or diluting agents within the UK - average purities
for police and customs seizures are similar, indicating
most cutting to occur before importation, usually with
other drugs such as paracetamol and caffeine.
As an expert
witness dealing with many drugs cases, I have encountered
heroin purities as low as 4% and as high as 70%. Home
Office statistics indicate average purity is falling
- average purity may be related to climatic factors
in producer countries - although low and high purity
batches occur in all years. One of the lowest purity
powders - an importation case - contained phenobarbitone,
which could mask the low purity in the short term by
putting the user to sleep. Although the market is unregulated,
purveyors of sub-standard heroin could well expect to
receive a visit from 'law of the jungle' enforcement
agents armed with baseball bats!
to users would be at first to try smaller quantities
of Unknown heroin - this applies equally to all unknown
drugs. Injecting users face the greatest risk as once
in the drug cannot be taken out again, and unless prompt
medical help is available death is a real possibility
- particularly if using alone. Smokers and 'chasers'
face lower overdose risk - once the user is unconscious
no more drug would be inhaled - although the cost of
use is greater.
to the death toll might be to emulate the Swiss and
make controlled doses of heroin (not just methadone)
available to addicts on the NHS, with appropriate safeguards
to avoid leakage to a 'grey market' while prescribing
at levels sufficient to avoid users supplementing with
street drugs. The cost of prescribable diamorphine is
a fraction of the street price, and could be reduced
further if agreement could be reached with producer
countries to buy the raw opium at source. This would
cut out the middle-men (i.e. drug traffickers &
street dealers) completely by removing their suppliers,
customers and income, and may stand a greater chance
of success than current crop substitution and interdiction
programmes. Unfortunately, the flaw in such a policy,
and perhaps the real reason why it has never been adopted,
may be fear of economic recession.
(self included) and institutions who derive their income
from the 'War on Drugs' would be put out of work. In
addition, if users no longer need pay for their habits
by stealing goods - usually replaced by insurance or
otherwise - demand for consumer goods may fall sharply,
bringing the wheels of industry to a halt.