Illicit drugs can be harmful enough in themselves because of their adverse health effects and addictive properties but tainted drugs bought on the street can be especially lethal. The way certain drugs are made may require them to be cut or mixed with other substances, some of them toxic and dangerous to the user.
In many cases, people are oblivious to what they are really buying when they purchase drugs from a dealer because the mixtures may be imperceptible to them. Additional substances added to the active ingredient in a drug are known as adulterants and many of them can cause adverse reactions in the user. A person buying illicit drugs off the street cannot predict the effects of the drug or the health related consequences if there are dangerous adulterants mixed into the final product.
Types of Additives in Illegal Drugs
Most illegal drugs can be made through a variety of methods and each person creating the drug may include their own additional substances to bulk, dilute, complement or enhance the effects of the drug. Most manufacturers will choose to include more benign additives like sugars or substances that enhance the effects of the drug like quinine in heroin.
They might also add substances to help facilitate the administration of the drug such as caffeine in heroin and cocaine to facilitate smoking. Many adulterants are purposefully added but some are the result of manufacture, storage and distribution.
In some cases, adulterants can be more toxic and dangerous substances that could lead to negative health effects for the user. Toxic substances like lead residue may be present in heroin or methamphetamine due to the way they are manufactured.Injecting even small doses of lead into a person's body can cause adverse health effects such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, seizures, coma and renal injury.
Some manufacturers may intentionally add strychnine in low doses to enhance the retention of drugs like heroin.Strychnine is a type of pesticide that can be non-life threatening in small amounts but a slight increase could be fatal to the user.
Drug manufacturers might add in other types of drugs as a way to enhance or facilitate drug use. Procaine, a local anesthesia, is sometimes mixed in with heroin and cocaine to relieve pain and facilitate smoking. Procaine can be toxic in high doses and can cause vomiting, tremors, convulsions and anxiety in users even in smaller amounts.
They might also mix in over the counter pain relievers like acetaminophen because it is cheap, easy to obtain and can disguise poor quality heroin. Pain relievers can cause liver damage, gastrointestinal effects and adverse effects when mixed with alcohol. Many other types of anesthetics, analgesics, and sedatives may be added to heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine for various reasons.
Adulterants can make the consumption of illicit drugs particularly unpredictable as the dosage and type of additive can vary greatly between different manufacturers. There are numerous cases of poisonings from additives like lead, strychnine, benzocaine and many other adulterants for users of illicit drugs. Bacterial infections can also be contracted by drug users due to contaminated or unsterile equipment in the area of production.
People who use addictive drugs like heroin, meth or cocaine are putting themselves at risk on many different levels. While the pure form of the drugs can already cause serious health issues, users may also inadvertently ingest a toxic poison that is mixed in with the drug. The risks of tainted drugs can be potentially life-threatening in many cases. Someone may never know for sure what types of adulterants are in a drug and how their body will react to its effects.