The flow of Ecstasy into Kerala

Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon

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Representative Image | Photo: ANI

The year 2022 witnessed a record seizure of psychotropic drugs like Ecstasy (MDMA), Methamphetamine, LSD, and Cocaine from the state. As per the data from the State Excise Department, as much as 7,775.425 g of Ecstasy (MDMA) was recovered by the agency in 2022.

The UNODC Synthetic Drugs for East and Southeast Asia 2022, states “Preliminary data for 2021 shows a significant drop in the amount of “ecstasy” seized in the region, both in East Asia and Southeast Asia from the equivalent of 8.9 million tablets in 2020 to 3.7 million tablets in 2021. In East Asia, although seizures of the drug increased in the Republic of Korea and Japan, the amount of “ecstasy” seized in China, including Hong Kong, declined sharply compared to the previous year. As in previous years, “ecstasy” seizures in Southeast Asia were primarily driven by Indonesia and Malaysia, where the combined amounts seized declined significantly from 5.2 million tablets in 2020 to only 1.8 million in 2021.34 However, increases in “ecstasy” seizures were observed in Myanmar, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, and Thailand”.

Thailand is of particular concern to India and Kerala as a large number of Indians, and Keralites, flock to Thailand every day. All four international airports located at Thiruvananthapuram, Cochin, Calicut and Kannur, either have direct flights or alternatively there are convenient connections to Bangkok and Pattaya in Thailand. In addition, every major international airport in India is having direct flights to Bangkok. Several thousands of tourists make a beeline to Bangkok for fun and frolic. But most worrisome is the fact that a section of these tourists are cultivated by drug mafias to bring the popular love drug called Ecstasy (MDMA). It commands a lucrative Rs 1500 to 4500 per gram in Kerala’s student party circuits.

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At international airports, it is simply impossible for Customs or any other enforcement agency to detect such minute quantities brought by a passenger, unless there is prior specific information. It is like looking for a needle in a haystack. While currently, there are no reports of the production of Ecstasy in Thailand, the situation in neighbouring Cambodia is grave. Thailand and Cambodia share an international border that is 817 km (508 mi) in length which runs from the tripoint with Laos in the north-east to the Gulf of Thailand in the south. Vast quantities of Ecstasy are transported to Thailand across the land borders.

In July 2021, a drug production facility was dismantled in Cambodia, where 102 kg of MDMA was seized, together with 39.9 kg of mephedrone and over 1,114 kg of chemical substances. Tableting tools found at the site matched the physical characteristics and designs of “ecstasy” tablets found in the region. Moreover, a tableting tool matching the design for a pharmaceutical product was found. This shows the flexibility of organised crime groups in using facilities to produce multiple drug types. Cambodia’s natural abundance of trees within the Cinnamomum genus has made it a hotspot for MDMA production. The Phnom Samkos Sanctuary, in the Cardamom Mountains, is home to almost all Mreah Prew Phnom trees. For drug producers, these trees present an excellent opportunity to produce high-grade Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) by extracting their safrole-rich oils. This is done by uprooting the tree, dismembering, shredding, and finally boiling its roots for nearly 12 hours.

Underground chemists have also come up with Anethol Oil to produce Paramethoxyamphetamine (PMA) or Paramethoxymethamphetamine (PMMA). It is chemically similar to MDMA in that is a stimulant that holds hallucinogenic properties, but it has alarming effects. PMA and PMMA are both absorbed slower by the human body, meaning that individuals consuming them can wrongly believe that their dosages are not sufficient, hence the need to consume more. Uncontrolled consumption causes a torrent of Serotonin and Dopamine release in the brain that PMA/PMMA induces. This leads to massive toxicity and the brain is unable to handle the massive surge in Serotonin, thereby users develop Serotonin Syndrome. This is a toxic reaction that elevates body temperature to dangerous, and lethal, levels.

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Lakhs of Indian tourists visiting Thailand can be convenient carriers to various destinations in India. It is a very alarming situation. Another favourite tourist destination for Keralites is The Netherlands, which is one of the largest producers of ecstasy and amphetamines in the world and the spiralling violence and power of the gangs who supply it has led some police chiefs to warn that the Netherlands is turning into a narco-state.

The Netherlands is the number one Ecstasy (MDMA) producing nation in the world. The estimated annual street value of MDMA produced in Holland runs to multiple billions of Euros. Ecstasy (MDMA), which in the Netherlands is known as ‘e’ is a psychoactive stimulant that comes in powder or pressed pill form and enjoys enormous popularity across the Western world. Often called the ‘love drug’, Ecstasy makes many users feel euphoric and prone to touching or hugging those around them. A large number of tourists from India visit the Netherlands every year to see the famous Keukenhof Tulip Gardens, and many would be tempted to bring a few grams of Ecstasy to defray the travel costs. Europe is a favourite destination for many Keralites, including students and honeymooners.

Like in the Netherlands, Ecstasy (MDMA) is one of the most popular drugs in New Zealand. In 2019, it was estimated that around 378 kgs of MDMA were consumed there. New Zealand is seeing a surge of students not only from Kerala but from other parts of the country as well. These students have a role in popularizing the consumption of Ecstasy in Kerala. It is also another favourite tourist destination for rich Keralites.

Underlying the Ecstasy (MDMA) system is crime, the black market for drugs, the young people, including school children, who are being attracted to drug consumption, drug production, drug trafficking and all the odd jobs within the system of the drug trade. Many students unwittingly and tragically end up pursuing a career in drugs.

Representational image | Mathrubhumi

Among the student crowd Ecstasy is known by many other fancy names like Molly, X, Superman, and XTC, among many others. Consumption of Ecstasy causes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. These stimulant effects, combined with prolonged physical activity, like sex, accompanied by the rise in body temperature, can result in unpredictable and serious physical complications. Deaths from Ecstasy use, mostly result from hyperthermia or a sudden increase in body temperature, cardiovascular collapse, or significant dehydration.

Public agencies, schools and colleges conducting drug awareness programs, need to warn students that there is no specific medical treatment for Ecstasy addiction. Many contaminated drugs are also being sold by peddlers as Ecstasy. The classical Latin phrase “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware) needs to be explained to students.

The author is former Director General of National Academy of Customs, Indirect Taxes & Narcotics

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