Contaminants In Illicit Drugs

One of the biggest risks of taking illicit drugs is that because they’re produced and sold by criminals, a user is likely to find a host of contaminants like glass, laxatives, strychnine and other illegal drugs in any batch.

These concerns have been reignited thanks to the recent reports of hospitalizations following a bad batch of methamphetamine circulating in Winnipeg and reports of potentially fatal consequences.

However, determining the purity of illicit drugs isn’t easy, and many people are unaware of what they’re actually getting when they buy drugs from street dealers.

Winnipeg’s Bad Batch

The tainted methamphetamine in Winnipeg has led to at least five people being hospitalized. Symptoms such as erratic or unusual behavior, extreme paranoia and unexpected physical strength have been reported, and one user’s heart stopped for 10 minutes, resulting in brain damage. It isn’t clear which contaminants were in the bad batch, but law enforcement officials were keen to point out that there is no such thing as a “good” batch of methamphetamine.

How Pure Are Illicit Drugs?

Despite the problems with determining the purity of a specific batch of street drugs, there are studies from the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Institute for Defense Analyses that give an overall indication of the purity of various illicit drugs. On the whole, heroin is the drug most likely to be heavily cut with other substances, often being only 30 to 40 percent pure. The purity of powdered cocaine is usually around 70 percent, and crack cocaine is slightly more pure as a result of the manufacturing process. Methamphetamines are generally around 50 percent pure.

What Other Substances Are Used?

The poor purity associated with drugs such as heroin may lead you to wonder what else is included in the drugs bought on the street. There are three overall groups of contaminants found in street drugs: diluents, adulterants and impurities. Diluents are substances intentionally included to add to the weight of the deal, and these are usually fairly benign things like glucose and lactose that can be added without a noticeable difference. Impurities, in contrast, aren’t intentionally added; they’re usually by-products of the extraction or manufacturing process, like related opioids found in heroin.

Adulterants are the most deceitful substances added to drugs of abuse. These are used to mimic the effects of the illicit drugs, and as a result usually have notable effects. Examples of substances like this include caffeine, lidocaine, and paramethoxyamphetamine, which are found in drugs like cocaine, ecstasy and heroin. Lidocaine is an anesthetic in a similar way to cocaine, and is used to convince users of high purity, and paramethoxyamphetamine adds to the effects of ecstasy. Caffeine is widely used because of its stimulant properties and easy availability.

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