More to drug overdose deaths at concert

18 Mar 2014 / 20:31 H.

    THE recent six drug overdose deaths at a concert refers. My experience in working with local drug users and being reasonably familiar with the local "drug scene" tells me that this may be a new phenomenon.
    In recent years, we have not heard of drug overdose cases in the country because the purity of heroin and methamphetamine is relatively low, unlike in the US, where heroin purity is high and where cases of reported overdose have been increasing; the case of Oscar winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, for example, hogged headlines.
    While most of the press reports indicated that the overdose was due to methamphetamine, I personally feel that there may be more issues that we need to understand before we come to this conclusion.
    We will also need to understand this phenomenon quickly before more people become victims.
    Most illicit drugs are mixed with adulterants which sometimes contain poisonous chemicals or other harmful drugs. While the drug test conducted may indicate that it was methamphetamine, this may not be the cause of death.
    One should examine to see if there were other poisonous adulterants mixed in illicit methamphetamine that may have caused death. If this is indeed the case, we will need to identify the adulterants in this sample of methamphetamine.
    We also need to know the purity of the illicit methamphetamine used by the drug users in this case. As I mentioned earlier, the street purity of drugs in the country is low; so was there a batch of high purity methamphetamine? If the answer is yes, we need to trace how this high quality methamphetamine has become available in the illicit local drug market.
    Did they use methamphetamine with alcohol or any other illicit drugs? We need to understand the interactions of the substances, dosage and conditions in which they were used or consumed.
    To fully appreciate the importance of this incident, investigators will also need to talk to the friends of the dead drug users to get a better picture of the behavioural context of their drug use, study the clinical reports, and conduct further toxicology and forensic tests.
    All this has to be done as soon as possible to get to the bottom of this incident and to ensure that it does not occur again.
    Assoc Prof Dr B. Vickna-singam
    Centre for Drug Research
    Universiti Sains Malaysia

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