Drugs hidden in haze of smoke

Drugs hidden in haze of smoke
PHOTO: The New Paper

We are on to you - that's what the National Anti-drugs Agency (AADK) has in mind against vapers who try to fool authorities by misusing the paraphernalia to take drugs.

Vapers who behave suspiciously will now be subjected to random urine tests, AADK deputy director-general (operation) Izhar Abu Talib says.

He says the vaping trend will be monitored closely to prevent abuse.

"We have the right to conduct random urine tests on the spot if we suspect that you are using the mods (electronic vaporiser device) and juices (e-liquid) to do drugs.

"If the urine sample is positive, we will haul you to court before checking you into our centre for rehabilitation," he says.

In a recent interview with Sunday Star at the 1Malaysia Cure & Care Clinic in Sungai Besi, a group of drug users undergoing rehabilitation with the AADK reveal their experience of vaping drugs like ice, syabu and pil kuda - the street name for methamphetamine, and synthetic cannabis.

The expose comes barely two weeks after a Sunday Star front page story about the booming vape industry in the country. Worth half a billion ringgit (S$179 million), Malaysia's vape industry is the second largest in the world after the United States, yet it remains unregulated unlike in most countries where it is banned or controlled.

In The Star report on June 28, Universiti Malaya associate professor Dr Amer Siddiq Amer Nordin warned that electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), or e-cigs, could be misused - and used to vape drugs. In the US, a new designer drug called Flakka is often smoked using e-cigs, he had said.

Vapers use ENDS to deliver a vaporised mixture of chemicals to their lungs. Each device has an electronic vaporisation system and controls, rechargeable batteries and cartridges, which contain varying amounts of liquid nicotine to be vaporised.

Izhar believes his men are up to the task although he admits that sniffing out vapers abusing drugs with their devices will be "very challenging" as drug users will no longer be at their usual haunts.

"Their old 'kitchens' under the bridge and trees and in abandoned houses, hidden from view, will be vacated," he says, noting that with vape kits, users have mobile kitchens in their pockets.

"Now they won't have to cook their drugs and smoke in secrecy. It'll be tough to identify who is vaping drugs in public because we have to rely on physical (body) and behavioural signs."

He calls on parents and teachers to be vigilant and to alert the agency if they sense that something is amiss. Adults need to be observant whether it's e-cigs or conventional cigarettes because both are gateways to illicit drugs.

"Call us if you need advice on how to deal with the situation or if you want our assistance. We provide interventions, outreach and counselling services. The drug habit is easy to curb in the initial stages," says Izhar.

Universiti Sains Malaysia Criminology Faculty Assoc Professor Dr P. Sundramoorthy is not surprised that drug users have turned to vaping as the latest way to get high.

Using e-cigs as drug paraphernalia doesn't create suspicion, he says, adding that drug users are "a very innovative lot".

"Parents, especially, must be observant. Surf the Internet to learn about vaping if you don't know what it's about."

Lamenting how we've failed to "even snuff out smoking among minors", he stresses that everyone has a role to play - from parents to the law enforcers.

"Now, minors are vaping and even using the device for drugs."

According to the WHO Global Tobacco Survey 2011, the prevalence of ENDS smoking in Malaysian adults was 0.8 per cent, an estimated 164,000 people.

In the US, schools are getting tougher on e-cigarettes, even punishing possession of the devices more harshly than regular cigarettes.

A government survey of more than 41,000 students showed that e-cigarettes, which can also be used for illegal substances like marijuana, have surpassed traditional smoking in popularity among teens.

ENDS is banned in countries like Cambodia, Australia, Canada, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates. It is banned from public places and subject to the same tight controls as tobacco in France.

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