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Dublin: 3 °C Tuesday 12 November, 2019

From 0.03% to 91%: Just how pure are the illegal drugs sold in Ireland?

New analysis of garda seizures show that taking street drugs can be “a game of chance”.

€5 million worth of cocaine was seized by gardai in Co Clare yesterday.
€5 million worth of cocaine was seized by gardai in Co Clare yesterday.

WORMING POWDER, CAFFEINE, paracetamol and dental anesthetics are all among the mixing agents used by drug dealers importing and selling drugs in Ireland.

Analysis of drugs seized by gardaí carried out by Forensic Science Ireland has calculated the average purity of both bulk and street level illegal drugs in Ireland.

The research found that drug dealers use a variety of substances with which to mix drugs and that drug purity drops from when it is imported to when it is sold.

Campaigners say the results show that using street drugs is “a game of chance as far as overdose risk is concerned.”

In the case of bulk seizures of cocaine, 158 samples were analysed and the average purity was 40%. By the time the drugs reached street level, the purity of the cocaine had dropped to 28% in Dublin and 19% outside the capital.

Levamisole, a medication that is used in both human and animal worming, is the most frequently used cutting agent for cocaine and was detected in 73% of cocaine seized by gardai.

Forensic Science Ireland also points out that the purity of bulk seizures of cocaine can vary widely from case to case. The most pure cocaine seized by gardaí last year was 91% pure, while the most diluted was 0.03%.

Other adulterants found in seized cocaine include caffeine, benzocaine and lidocaine. The latter two substances are frequently used as a dental anesthetic.


Officers from Revenues Customs Division Heroin seized by gardaí and customs officials at Rosslare Europort. Source:

Bulk seizures of heroin found by gardai were found to be 40% pure with caffeine and paracetamol the most common adulterants. After the heroin was mixed before being sold at street level, the average purity fell to 34%.

The wide variance in the purity of drugs being sold to users shows that Ireland’s drug problem is a complex one, according to Tony Duffin of Dublin’s Ana Liffey Drug Project.

“It’s easy to say that people shouldn’t take street drugs but, as we know, just say no campaigns simply don’t work. People do take street drugs, and suffer grave health consequences at great cost to the taxpayer as a result,” Duffin says.

People who use drugs need better information about what they are taking. In this regard, Ireland needs to make more resources available for harm reduction measures such as accessible and timely drug testing.

Read: Three men arrested after €2.7 million worth of drugs seized in vehicles >

Read: ‘Torpedo-like’ device found packed with drugs in Clare was likely attached to cargo ship >

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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