Many experts believe that some drugs which are currently illegal in most countries are on balance far less harmful than alcohol and tobacco. Whether or not substances such as ecstasy, cannabis or LSD are safer than vices most western nations have deemed permissible is open to debate, but it is hard to argue against the fact that a great deal of the harm caused by illicit narcotics comes about as a result of the unregulated nature of the criminal markets on which they are sold. As has been the case for generations, drug users can never be truly sure what is in the substances they buy, regardless of how well they know and trust their supplier. While this has always been the case, the problem has been brought into sharp focus over recent years as drug producers have sought to outdo their rivals by making their products more potent than anything else on the market.
Illegal drugs have historically been cut with all manner of unpleasant ingredients, but evidence now suggests criminal gangs are seeking to set their products apart by making them as strong as possible, be that by adding greater quantities of MDMA to ecstasy tablets, or cutting batches of heroin with deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl. Meanwhile, less scrupulous drug producers continue to pass off products that bear little resemblance to what they claim they are, such as ecstasy pills that contain pentylone instead of MDMA. Caring little for the welfare of the people who end up taking the drugs they make, the criminal gangs behind the illicit narcotics trade have one motive; to make as much money as possible. As such, and in light of the fact that the legalisation of most outlawed drugs looks to be a very long way off in most countries, lawmakers and others should focus their energies on harm reduction.
One of the best ways of keeping drug users safe from harm is to empower them with the means to discover what is really in the substances they are planning to consume, and how strong they might be. This is what makes drug-testing stations at music festivals and nightclubs such a good idea. A number of major festivals, such as Groovin the Moo in Australia and Bestival in the UK, have adopted the concept, allowing drug testers onto their sites to anonymously analyse the composition of narcotics festival-goers are planning to take. Users can then make an informed decision as to whether they should consume their drugs or not. Testing carried out at a festival in the UK city of Bristol recently revealed ecstasy pills that were up to four times stronger than regular tablets. At the very least, arming drug users with information such as this gives them the opportunity to take smaller doses.
Despite the potential for drug-testing facilities at festivals to save lives, some are less than enthusiastic about the idea. Festival Republic surprised campaigners this month by announcing that it will not be allowing drug testers on site at its UK events this year, despite having applied to the British government for a licence that would have allowed it to do so. It has been speculated that the company’s licence application was most likely turned down, prompting it to make a business decision not to go ahead with testing. Doing so could leave it open to prosecution should any harm come to drug users who had their illegal substances tested. Other festival organisers in the UK that choose to go ahead with allowing drug-testing facilities at their events do so without a licence from authorities. The British government’s current position is that “no illegal drug can be assumed to be safe and there is no safe way to take them”. Commenting on the drug-testing service offered at Australia’s Groovin the Moo festival this year, the country’s Shadow Attorney General Jeremy Hanson claimed the decision to allow it to go ahead would encourage drug use.
It has become clear over the years that a zero-tolerance approach to drug use at nightclubs and music festivals simply does not work. If young people want to take drugs, they will more often than not find a way in which to do so. It is for this reason that allowing drug-testing facilities at festivals should be a no-brainer, particularly in the absence of sensible drug policies that would take the production of narcotics out of the hands of criminals who care little as to whether the end consumer of their products live or die. Only last month, two young people lost their lives after taking “dangerous high-strength or bad-batch” ecstasy pills at Portsmouth’s Mutiny Festival. If they had been able to have the tablets they were about to take tested, there is a chance they might still be alive today. Event organisers should not have to put themselves at risk of prosecution by allowing drug-testing facilities on site without the approval of the authorities. All the while legislators refuse to implement drug policies that could greatly reduce the harm caused by narcotics, the least they should do is sanction the use of drug-testing facilities at festivals and nightclubs that really could save lives.
PayPal agrees to flag suspicious transactions to US anti-trafficking NGO Polaris
PayPal has agreed to share financial data with US anti-human trafficking organisation Polaris in a new initiative intended to help authorities identify and prosecute perpetrators of the crime.
The online payments giant has said it will flag suspicious transactions that could be linked to trafficking activity to Polaris’ new Financial Intelligence Unit, which will leverage information obtained by the organisation’s National Human Trafficking Hotline to identify traffickers’ cash flows and bring prosecutions for both financial crimes as well as exploitation.
Highlighting how financial institutions have long played a pivotal role in helping law enforcement agencies identify and disrupt human trafficking activity, Polaris said the new initiative will provide investigators with invaluable information that can be used to track new money laundering techniques used by traffickers, and track down perpetrators.
Polaris came up with the concept for the new unit after examining the roles of major private and public-sector systems and industries on the sex and labour trafficking ecosystems.
After reviewing the findings of its On-Ramps, Intersections, and Exit Routes report, the NGO determined that companies in the financial services industry, and firms in the fintech space in particular, were best placed to help those fighting human trafficking identify trafficker cash flows.
In a statement, Aaron Karczmer, Chief Risk Officer at PayPal, commented: “PayPal and Polaris coming together is a great example of private and non-profit entities joining forces to achieve a positive social impact that neither party could fully realize on their own.
“We look forward to advancing new, innovative approaches to combating human trafficking with partners like Polaris, who, like PayPal, strive to create meaningful change on this important issue.”
Applauding the announcement, Luis deBaca, who served as Director of the US Department of Justice’s Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking, said: “Working with financial institutions to understand how traffickers use their services has the potential to dramatically shift the trafficking equation, making exploitation more risky and therefore less profitable.”
A few months later in September, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported that dozens of banks had signed up to a similar programme backed by the UN intended to help survivors whose financial identities had been hijacked by traffickers.
US border guards arrest 14-year-old boy with three packages of methamphetamine taped to his stomach
Customs officers in the US state of California have arrested a 14-year-old boy after discovering he had three bags of methamphetamine taped to his midriff under his clothing.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said the boy was stopped at the State Route 94 checkpoint in a vehicle with three companions on Monday night.
After pulling over the car in which the four suspects were traveling, CBP officers searched the vehicle with the help of a sniffer dog, which gave its handlers a positive response, indicating there were drugs present.
Customs investigators then sent the vehicle and its four occupants for further inspection.
Agents conducting pat-downs on the four found three bags of suspected methamphetamine wrapped round the 14-year-old’s stomach before taking all of them inside the checkpoint.
In total, the packages taped to the boy’s torso were found to contain just over 1.5kgs of methamphetamine.
A more detailed search of the vehicle the four suspects were travelling in resulted in the discovery of three backpacks containing 49 plastic-wrapped packages in the back of the car that contained more than 23kgs of methamphetamine.
The drugs seized from the suspects and their vehicle had an estimated street value of some $102,000.
The driver of the car, who investigators identified as a 34-year-old male US citizen, was taken into custody with three juvenile males, including a 16-year-old US citizen and two Mexican nationals aged 14 and 16.
CBP said that its San Diego Sector has seized approximately 500kgs of methamphetamine since 1 October last year, which had a total estimated street value of $2,088,100.
In a statement, CBP said: “To prevent the illicit smuggling of humans, drugs, and other contraband, the US Border Patrol maintains a high level of vigilance on corridors of egress away from our nation’s borders.”
In a separate seizure last Friday, Californian customs workers took a man into custody after finding more than 90 packages of methamphetamine stashed in various parts of his car.
After flagging the man down in his Green Ford Explorer on Interstate 15 near Temecula, a border agent engaged him in conversation while a sniffer dog gave the vehicle the once over.
When the dog signalled that drugs were likely in the car, investigators conducted a detailed search, finding 96 packages containing nearly 46kgs of methamphetamine estimated to be worth some $191,900.
San Diego Chief Patrol Agent Douglas Harrison commented: “I am very proud of the dedication displayed by these agents.
“They are committed to protecting America and keeping dangerous narcotics like these from reaching our communities.”
British pharmacist jailed for selling opiate painkillers, tranquillisers and cancer drugs to organised criminals
A crooked British pharmacist has been handed a 28-month jail sentence after being convicted of supplying controlled drugs with an estimated street value of almost £280,500 ($366,557) to members of an organised crime network.
Jaspar Ojela, 56, from West Bromwich, purchased controlled opiate painkillers, tranquillisers and medications intended for the treatment of cancer from drug wholesalers in 2016 before selling them on to his underworld contacts.
Ojela pleaded guilty to supplying the drugs during a hearing at Wolverhampton Crown Court after he was caught in a successful operation conducted by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which regulates medication and medical devices in Britain.
The agency said cancer drugs are valuable to organised crime gangs as they are taken illicitly by bodybuilders to counteract the unwanted effects of other hormone medications.
An investigation was launched into Ojela after inspectors noticed that his pharmacy was buying suspiciously large quantities of controlled drugs that are popular on the black market, such as Diazepam, Zolpidem and Zopiclone.
Investigators were able to establish that Ojela illegally sold more than 200,000 doses of these drugs to his criminal contacts between February and September 2016.
When brought in by police for questioning, Ojela admitted that he had bought the medication with the intention of selling it on to organised criminals, and that he did so while knowing that he did not hold the necessary MHRA and Home Office licences.
Ojela’s defence barrister told the court he made less than £2,000 from the conspiracy and that he was at a “low ebb” when he agreed to participate in it.
The court was told that Ojela sold his criminal associates 213,000 pills for a total of just £5,600.
As well as pursuing his prosecution and jailing, the MHRA is also seeking to recover the proceeds of Ojela’s crimes, while the General Pharmaceutical Council is pursuing disciplinary proceedings against him.
In a statement, Mark Jackson, MHRA Head of Enforcement, commented: “It is a serious criminal offence to sell controlled drugs which are also prescription only medicines without a prescription.
“We work relentlessly with regulatory and law enforcement colleagues to identify and prosecute those involved.
“Those who sell medicines illegally are exploiting vulnerable people and have no regard for their health. Prescription-only medicines are potent and should only be taken under medical supervision.”
- PayPal agrees to flag suspicious transactions to US anti-trafficking NGO Polaris
- US border guards arrest 14-year-old boy with three packages of methamphetamine taped to his stomach
- British pharmacist jailed for selling opiate painkillers, tranquillisers and cancer drugs to organised criminals
- Bungling British cyber hacker jailed for nine months after making £5 in attack on UK National Lottery
- People trafficking gang that smuggled Moroccan migrants into EU via Gibraltar smashed
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
8 February 2018
28 November 2017
28 November 2017
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