Pubdate: Mon, 13 Mar 2017
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 The Edmonton Journal
Author: ClaireTheobald
Page: A3


Painkiller mixed with cocaine by dealers can cause seizures, coma or

Police fear a growing amount of buffing agent being seized in drug
busts means more high-level dealers are bringing wholesale quantities
into Edmonton for redistribution, creating another avenue for profit.

The Edmonton Drug and Gang Enforcement (EDGE) unit seized more buffing
agent in 2016 - 82.05 kg - than all cocaine, marijuana, heroin and
methamphetamine combined.

Buffing agents are used by drug dealers to dilute illicit drugs to
increase profits.

A single EDGE investigation in January yielded more than 150 kg of
phenacetin, known on the street as "superbuff," enough to fill four
large barrels and potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"Cocaine traffickers need the buffing agent to make money, and selling
illegal drugs is about making money. It's just one part of the
puzzle," EDGE Staff Sgt. Kevin Berge said.

Berge said phenacetin - a painkiller pulled from the pharmaceutical
market in Canada in 1978 after it was found to be carcinogenic - is
the most popular buffing agent used by dealers to cut cocaine.

Arno Siraki, an associate professor in the faculty of pharmacy and
pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Alberta, said phenacetin
has been labelled by the International Agency for Research on Cancer
(IARC) as a Group 1 carcinogen, the highest classification of
cancer-causing substances, putting it on the same list as radioactive
materials like plutonium.

"Any time a substance is labelled as a Group 1 carcinogen there is no
dose that is safe," Siraki said.

Siraki said large doses of phenacetin can cause hemolytic anemia, a
condition that destroys red blood cells, and methemoglobinemia, a
condition that inhibits the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen
that in severe cases can cause seizures, coma or death.

Repeated use of phenacetin can cause kidney damage and failure, and
over time phenacetin consumption can cause cancer of the renal pelvis
and ureter, the "excretion routes of the drug," Siraki said.


Because of its popularity among drug dealers, phenacetin has become
just as salable for high-level dealers on its own as it is when mixed
with cocaine, Berge said, with drug dealers selling phenacetin to
other lower level dealers.

Berge said the barrels of phenacetin seized in January appear to have
been shipped from China where it is readily available, and the white,
powdery substance is sometimes shipped under different names to avoid

Finding buffing agents is a good indicator for investigators that a
suspect has higher level knowledge of cooking or converting illegal
drugs - such as converting cocaine into crack cocaine - Berge said,
giving police the option to charge someone in possession of the
substance with production on top of any other related drug possession
or trafficking charges.

Berge stresses to users that there is no quality control or health
standards involved in buying or selling illegal drugs.

"Each time you take an illegal drug it's like playing Russian
roulette, you don't know what you are going to take," he said. "It's
not made in a facility that has quality control. You don't know what
the ingredients are, you don't know what it's being laced with."
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