Monday 24 September 2018

Revealed: Irish drug users turning to Facebook to order drugs such as ecstasy and cannabis

STOCK IMAGE Photo: PA
STOCK IMAGE Photo: PA

Ian Begley

DRUG dealers are using social media giant Facebook to sell prescription drugs including painkillers, opioids and powerful sedatives to Irish customers.

After an extensive investigation into the sale of dangerous prescription medication online, Independent.ie can reveal that:

  • Deadly drugs such as Fentanyl, which killed musician Prince and is 50 times stronger than heroin, are only a few clicks away, thanks to online dealers.
  • The drugs are shipped to Ireland from as far away as Cameroon.
  • 100 painkillers will cost only €60.
  • Illegal narcotics such as cannabis and ecstasy can also be bought via social media.
  • Facebook only removed the pages selling the drugs after Independent.ie got in touch, saying: “It was a mistake not to have removed them.”

Hundreds of profiles and pages on Facebook are openly advertising the illegal sale of prescription drugs to countries around the world, including Ireland.

To prove their legitimacy, the online dealers post time-stamped photos of their stock and carry out transactions in private messages.

Using a false name, we contacted several drug sellers to find out if an Irish customer can buy the illegal drugs.

“I ship to Ireland all the time, pal,” said one dealer from Cameroon, who said he specialises in anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax and diazepam.

“But I can get my hands on tramadol and pregabalin [both strong painkillers] if you give me a bit of time.

“Getting 250 pills of diaz will cost you €100 and it’s €60 for 100 pills of tramadol. I also got weed as well.”

(Stock image)
(Stock image)

A dealer claiming to be from Cyprus said the social media site is an ideal platform to sell his stock.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time on Facebook. They don’t care and I’ve never been banned. Everyone uses Facebook, that’s why it’s a great place to sell,” he said.

Another drug pedlar from Cameroon said: “I get my supply from pharmacies and even from hospitals.

“You can’t buy them here without a prescription, but I have a lot of contacts and am old in this business.

“It’s 100pc safe to ship [to Ireland] and I can have your meds sent out in two days with express delivery. No need to use a fake name or different address – just transfer the money through Western Union.”

Several dealers were also openly advertising Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that has caused an epidemic in the US, killing more than 20,000 people in 2016 alone.

OVERDOSES

The admin of the Facebook page “Fentanyl Patches $100” offered to sell me 100 micrograms for €120, including overnight delivery.

Stock Photo
Stock Photo

“I accept my payment through Western Union or Bitcoin. So if you are interested then get back to me via my email for payment info,” he said.

In 2016, the HSE issued a public warning about Fentanyl after five people died of overdoses in Dublin and Cork. In the same year, gardai also warned of its dangers.

“People genuinely aren’t aware of what they’re taking,” said Det Supt Tony Howard.

“Unfortunately, the criminals that are manufacturing these drugs are putting it into heroin and cocaine.

It’s cheap. It’s easy to add it to give the individual a stronger buzz.

“We at An Garda Siochana would support the view that we should have abstinence, but in the real world if you’re taking drugs you really don’t want to take them on your own because with Fentanyl, the quicker you get medical assistance, the better chance you have of surviving.”

While the social media site appears to be a drug abuser’s paradise, it is also rampant with scammers.

To combat this issue, many private, localised groups have been created to act as a safer platform for drug users and dealers to congregate.

To test Facebook’s efficiency at taking action against users who sell drugs, the Herald reported 10 offending pages and nine profiles.

Nine pages were then removed, but only two profiles were taken down.

Whenever Facebook refused to take down an account, it issued an automated statement: “We’ve looked over the profile you reported, and although it doesn’t go against any specific community standards, we understand that the profile or something the person shared may still be offensive to you.”

Yet the company’s community standards clearly state: “We prohibit any attempts by unauthorised dealers to purchase, sell or trade prescription drugs, marijuana, firearms or ammunition.”

The Herald shared its findings with the social media giant, which agreed that every account we reported should have been promptly removed.

“It was a mistake not to have removed the reported pages and we’re grateful to the Herald for bringing this content to our attention,” a spokesperson said.

“We have now removed all of the pages, which violate our policies, and we are sorry that this occurred.

“It’s clear we can do better, and we recently announced that we are doubling our safety and security team to 20,000 people over the next year to improve how we detect and remove content that shouldn’t be on Facebook.”

Western Union, the financial company that many prescription drug traffickers use to carry out their transactions, said it works closely with law enforcement agencies to combat such activity.

“Western Union takes the threat of drug trafficking, in all forms, very seriously,” a spokesperson said.

“This issue is a major priority for Western Union and, in close partnership with law enforcement, we continue to conduct projects that not only target the buyers and sellers engaged in the illicit sale of drugs, but also sellers of precursor chemicals and other production equipment.”

Last year, Revenue seized 34 benzodiazepine class drugs (such as diazepam) and three non-benzo substances (such as zopiclone).

“We use a range of data and intelligence to identify traders in the shadow economy,” a representative said.

“Within this risk framework, it is standard Revenue practice to monitor risk posed by social media marketing and online trading in all its forms.”

RISKING

Any drug seized by Revenue is then passed on to the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) for analysis.

A spokesperson urged people never to buy medicines online.

“The HPRA strongly advises against risking your health by purchasing drugs off social media,” they said.

“There is evidence that falsified medicines can be supplied from such sources.

“For these reasons, and others, the supply of prescription-only medicines by mail order is prohibited in Ireland.”

The recently published European Drug Report 2018 stated that drug sales online are a growing concern.

“Online sales are currently small in relation to the overall illicit drug market, but they appear to be growing,” it said.

“While attention is often focused on the dark net, it is also apparent that for new psychoactive substances and misused medicines, social media and the surface web may be equally important.”

Herald

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