“Meth [synthetic drug methamphetamine] gives me the same kick for a much lower price,” says 22-year-old Ashwin Kumar (name changed), a pub hopper who admits he needs a daily dose of narcotics.
Kumar, the son of a businessman from south Mumbai, was a regular cocaine user till 2009. “Last year, it became more difficult to get the stuff, and it was getting too expensive,” Kumar says. So, one of his friends introduced him to meth. “I found it was easier to get and was half the cost of cocaine,” Kumar says.
As the police continue their sustained crackdown on drugs smuggled from overseas — like cocaine, heroin and ecstasy — youngsters are making a similar switch from hard-core narcotics to synthetic, more affordable party drugs like ketamine, crystal meth and ephedrine. “I was addicted to Ecstasy, till my friends stopped paying,” says 18-year-old college student Mithilesh Sheth (name changed). “Since I needed a dose every day, I settled for ephedrine, which is cheaper. I know chemists who will get me some.”
Recent seizures are evidence of the changing trend. In August, Customs, narcotics control and revenue intelligence authorities seized 300 kg of ketamine hydrochloride, 73 kg of ephedrine, 10 litres of liquid methamphetamine, 8.45 kg of methamphetamine and 1 kg amphetamine. A total of 1,468 kg of synthetic drugs was seized in 2009.
“There is a shortage of cocaine in the narcotics market because of sustained crackdowns, so synthetic party drugs are catching on,” said a Narcotics Control Bureau official, speaking on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media. “Newer drugs are easy to manufacture.
This means drugs like meth and ephedrine can be sold at affordable rates. Amphetamine can even be extracted from cough syrup.”
In fact, loopholes and blindspots in medical procurement are helping this industry. Narcotics ‘manufacturers’ order in bulk from small pharmaceutical companies, offering huge sums if questions are asked, said an official from the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence.
Ketamine hydrochloride, which is legally available for medical use in India, is similarly procured from licensed dealers.
Since dealing in such substances is a bailable offence, and is not tried under the stringent Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.
Also, with no large cartel controlling the underground market, small-time smugglers with access and network can become minor druglords within months.