Pubdate: Mon, 11 Aug 2003
Source: Times Of Malta (Malta)
Copyright: 2003 Allied Newspapers Limited
Author: Ariadne Massa


Assistant Police Commissioner Michael Cassar is sceptical about the 
possibility that ecstasy was being manufactured in Malta saying the police 
had never unearthed any clues that could confirm this.

"Of course, you can never exclude anything. However, I have to say that the 
police have no intelligence that can verify this claim," Mr Cassar told The 

On Wednesday, sedqa, the agency against drug and alcohol abuse, pinned down 
the drastic reduction in the drug's market price - from Lm15 to Lm5 - to 
the possibility that ecstasy could be manufactured in Malta. Agency 
clinical director George Grech was quoted as saying that though they had no 
proof, they could not exclude such possibility.

When contacted Dr Grech said the drug's affordability made them suspicious 
but reiterated that the agency had no proof.

"We have heard some of our clients talk about the drug possibly being 
manufactured locally but obviously we cannot prove it. It doesn't take much 
to make it, all you need is a 'kitchen lab'," he said.

Mr Cassar agreed it didn't take a genius to manufacture the drug but people 
should not be misled into thinking it could be made in an ordinary kitchen.

The term "kitchen lab" was used as jargon by the police to refer to a tiny, 
make-shift laboratory used to illegally manufacture this popular drug.

Making the drug was not a difficult process, it was getting the precursor 
chemicals to make MDMA (ecstasy) which was sometimes hard and when its 
manufacturers found the door closed they usually resorted to using 
alternative chemicals that produced the same effect as MDMA.

"Whatever the case and whoever is manufacturing the drug, it is available 
and out there - the police are very concerned about this fact," he said.

Mr Cassar believes ecstasy is sometimes being sold as little as Lm3 making 
it completely affordable to young people. However, he believes this drastic 
reduction in price is simply brought about by market forces of demand and 

"At the moment ecstasy seems to be the only drug that Europe is exporting 
and a lot of it is being produced - millions a day can be produced in one 
lab - sending the market price plummeting," he said.

Mr Cassar said there were several clandestine labs concentrated in eastern 
Europe but The Netherlands was the hub for any drug.

"The illegal drug industry is very volatile because it shifts and changes 
when authorities come down on them and bust drug rings. They change their 
tactics but The Netherlands is still the hub," he said.

Mr Cassar said the UK also had a small number of clandestine labs but the 
drug was also imported to meet the demand - over two million ecstasy pills 
are popped every weekend in the UK.

It was very hard to establish how many abused of this drug in Malta and Mr 
Cassar said it would be presumptuous of him to try and give a figure. 
Whatever the number, those who took ecstasy usually did so before going to 
a party and the police were taking all the preventive measures to clamp 
down on drug abuse.

Mr Cassar said considerable amounts of ecstasy pills have been uncovered at 
recent parties and the police were not giving up in their fight on drugs. 
Over 1,000 ecstasy tablets have been seized by the police this year.

What concerns both Mr Cassar and Dr Grech is that there were young people 
out there who were playing with fire without being aware that the drug 
caused permanent damage to their health. Recent studies in the US have 
revealed the possibility that the brain could not return to normal even 
seven years after taking this so-called party drug.

Ecstasy has claimed two young lives over the past few years. David 
Farrugia, 17, died in August 1998 and Sammy Schembri 22, died in November 
of the same year. Both were attending parties and died following adverse 
reactions to ecstasy.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart