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Phuket teens concoct ‘legal high’ using pharmacy drugs

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: A dangerous new drug mixture known as ‘gas’ is gaining popularity among Phuket teenagers and others in the southern region. The drug – prepared by mixing cough medicine, allergy medicine, pain killers, or muscle relaxants with a soft drink or other mixer – has yet to be declared illegal.

Currently, pharmacists are allowed to sell these drugs to walk-in customers, making them easier to access. This is one of the main reasons for its popularity among teenagers.

Officers are now trying to restrict the sale of these drugs to hospitals only, in order to stem the increase in consumption of the drink.

“We do not have an exact number of teenage consumers, but we can say that it is increasing, because the number of pharmacies charged with faking their sales records is increasing,” Somsuk Sumparnprateep, head of the consumer protection division of the Phuket Provincial Health Office (PPHO), told the Phuket Gazette.

WHAT IS GAS?

“The mixture was first produced and consumed many years ago, but our officers only came to know about it in 2013. It originated from the South and is a variation of 4×100, which is a mixture of kratom and cough syrup. It is mostly popular among 15 to 18 year olds,” Sithisak Kallyanapradit, director of the Narcotics Control Board (NCB), told the Gazette.

Three of the most common drugs used to produce gas are Procodyl, Tramadol and Dextromethorphan. Prodycol is used to treat allergy symptoms such as itching, runny nose and sneezing. Tramadol is a pain reliever used to treat moderate to severe pain. Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant, which affects the signals in the brain that trigger cough reflexes.

A 22-year-old from Kathu, who declined to be named, said that his group of six friends consumes about two to three batches per night.

“We feel relaxed and happy when drinking gas. It helps us forget about any kind of stress and puts us in a half-awake, half-asleep state. Gas makes your body feels like it’s weightless and floating and eventually puts you into a deep and peaceful sleep. It’s even better than drinking alcohol,” he said. “Also, we rarely catch the flu or a cold.”

HOW DANGEROUS IS IT?

“When mixed together, the different medicines used to make gas have a very potent effect on the nervous system. In some rare cases, if the user overdoses, he or she might even experience heart failure or mental illness. However, it varies from individual to individual and depends on the user’s health and drug history,” Mr Somsuk said.

Preparing one batch of gas requires a 100cc bottle of Procodyl and 10 pills of Tramadol.

The vast range of side effects include severe drowsiness, dizziness, weakness, hallucinations, double vision, anxiety, palpitations, facial tics, fever, sweating, tremors, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, itching, stomach pain, swelling, and several others. Continuous overdose and over-consumption may result in fainting, seizures and cardiac arrest.

A 20-year-old girl, who also declined to be named, told the Gazette about her usage.

“We usually stay up drinking gas all night and sometimes sleep all day afterward. It makes us slower when we go to school the next day and reduces our appetite,” she said.

“One of our friends, who drank too much, went to sleep and never woke up. It scared us at the time, but not anymore, as we don’t consume as much as they did,” she added.

She also said that another friend went ‘crazy’ after consuming gas.

“I believe that they partly went crazy because of gas, but they might have had some preexisting health problems or consumed more than we thought. I still don’t think gas is that harmful, otherwise we would all have stopped drinking it,” she said.

A 21-year-old Muslim teenager told the Gazette that he feels less guilty when drinking gas, as his religion prohibits him from drinking alcohol.

“I was introduced to it through friends of friends. I was quite scared when trying it for the first time, but it made me feel relaxed and peaceful. Then, I joined their group and drank almost every night. We have fun without fear of being arrested,” he said.

“I keep drinking it, because if I don’t, I won’t be allowed to be a part of the group anymore.”

WHY ISN’T IT ILLEGAL?

“As there is no kratom involvement, we cannot take any action until the Ministry of Public Health declares it to be illegal,” said Phuket City Police Deputy Superintendent Khunnadet Nanongkhai.

According to the Drug Act, BE 2510, gas ingredients are categorized as ‘dangerous medicines’ that can only be sold by licenced pharmacists.

“This is the only law we can use to control the spread and usage of this medicine,” Mr Somsuk said.
“We have been requested to keep an eye on pharmacies, but we don’t have the skills to check their records. Therefore, the raids have to be made together with PPHO.”

HOW TO CONTROL IT

“We have been doing our best so far to work with the Public Health Office and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to control the actions of pharmacies. If we restrict the source of the supply, teenagers will have no choice but to stop consuming it,” Mr Suthisak said.

“We cannot stop pharmacies from selling these drugs to customers, but we can control their sales,” he added.

“Some pharmacists use the demand from teenagers as a way to earn more money. They don’t care about the possibly disastrous consequences on the customers’ health. All they want is more profit,” Mr Somsuk said.

“A small fine is not enough of a deterrent. Unfortunately, the PPHO has no right to shut down their businesses or suspend their licences. That authority only lies with the governor.”

Even though the PPHO has limited the amount of drugs they can sell, pharmacists will always find a way of buying more, he added.

“Gas is very popular in the south, so pharmacies here contact other pharmacies from different regions and collect the drugs from them,” Mr Somsuk said.

SUGGESTIONS

The NCB has urged police, the FDA and the pharmacy club of Thailand to keep an eye out for gas abuse, and help each other to solve the problem.

“I requested the Ministry of Public Health to upgrade these medicines to ‘psychotropic substances’ so they can only be bought at hospitals, with a doctor’s prescription,” said Mr Sithisak.

“It is still under consideration, as it will make the process cumbersome for legitimate consumers, who will have to waste their time and money going to the hospital for something they could easily get at the pharmacy before.”

Mr Somsuk also asked the community to step up and get proactive about the issue.
“As teenagers are the main consumers of this, parents have to keep a strict eye on their children. Community members must also report suspicious activities by any pharmacies,” he said.

— Kongleaphy Keam

 

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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