Purity of Hard Drugs in Great Britain Rises As Drug Users Get Pickier

By John Lavitt 05/06/15

Drug dealers have had to up their game after users have found better quality online.

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The now defunct charity DrugScope reported in its last annual street survey the dramatic rise in purity of illicit drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, and heroin across Great Britain. Over the past five years, cocaine has risen from an average purity of 18% to 51%. The purity of heroin almost doubled between 2011 and 2014, from 18% to 33%.

Detective Constable Vince Jones, a West Midlands drug officer, explained that the reason the cleanest heroin in the country is found in that land-locked metropolitan county is because Birmingham serves, strangely enough, as the heroin-import capital for Great Britain. Such a fact means most of the heroin is being flown into the country. At more than 50% pure, West Midlands heroin is arguably the best commonly available in all of Europe. As the heroin travels across the Great Britain, the quality declines as wholesalers cut it with other substances.

Safrole, an important ingredient in ecstasy that is made from the sassafras plant, was in short supply following seizures in Cambodia. Enforcement agencies worked out some of the traffickers’ routes, making it harder to get drugs to Britain. Cocaine purity dipped as low as 1% at times. The result was a highly negative response from drug users. Although addicts would buy just about anything, the wealthier weekend warriors wanted only the best. And they were willing to go to the web and other sources to find what they wanted.

The rise in drug purity hints at the rising influence of these pickier drug users. Since drug users now have a wide range of alternatives in the form of synthetic “legal highs,” which can often be found online, dealers of street drugs have sought to improve their wares. Suppliers realized their market would vanish if they did not deliver a better product. As a result, the drug traffickers adapted.

New drug smuggling routes emerged while innovative recipes were being developed. Ecstasy producers replaced safrole with more readily accessible chemicals. Finding it harder to get hold of benzocaine, a local anesthetic used to cut cocaine, drug wholesalers just added more caffeine. Strangely enough, as drug prices fell in light of the added quantity, the quality of the drugs actually rose at the same time.

Purer drugs are a big positive to demanding buyers and a huge gateway to addiction and crime. Many old-time drug users are being punished for their lack of taste. Not in the least discerning in hard times, DrugScope suggests they are overdosing in higher numbers than ever before on drugs that turned out to be far stronger than the stomped-on product they had been using for several years.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.