Drug factories become Britain's new illegal cottage industry

POLICE CHIEFS are warning of a flood of new synthetic drugs - including super-strong ecstasy, fake Prozac and Viagra - both manufactured in Britain and imported from illegal "factories" abroad.

A survey by the international police association Interpol has found record numbers of illegal laboratories being set up throughout Europe, producing ever increasing quantities of synthetic drugs. In Britain, at least 22 illicit drug factories manufacturing amphetamines, ecstasy, and the anaesthetic GHB, have been discovered in the past three years.

Vincent Harvey, director of United Kingdom operations at the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), has also warned of new types of chemical stimulants being sold by dealers in Britain. Traffickers are increasingly manufacturing and buying up stocks of Prozac and Viagra to sell in nightclubs along with ecstasy tablets.

He told a national drugs conference in Blackpool last week that the abuse of the two new wonder "lifestyle" drugs, was extremely dangerous and one of the most significant recent trends. "We have know for some time of ecstasy users supplementing the drug with Prozac to enhance the effects. Drugs dealers are seeking supplies of legitimate drugs such as Prozac and Viagra or even attempting to manufacture them for themselves," he said.

"Of course such combinations could easily have unexpected results as different outcomes are combined. As users look for particular effects, they are increasingly attracted to designer variants of legitimate drugs."

The attempted manufacture of copies of the anti-depressant drug Prozac and the impotence remedy Viagra are part of a boom in designer synthetic drugs being used by clubbers. Viagra is sold in clubs to be used along with ecstasy, the side-effects of which can include the diminishing of sexual abilities. Prozac is supposed to counter-balance the depression and "down" people feel after taking stimulants, although this is a sales trick, because it takes several weeks to work.

Mr Harvey added that thanks to the Internet, "criminals in Europe can order tons of chemicals from anywhere in the world". He added: "We have established that some UK criminals travel the world to source the chemicals, the popular destinations at present include China, the Russian Federation and throughout most of Eastern Europe. Most individual purchases are entirely legal."

He highlighted a publication available on the Internet that provides recipes for 179 ecstasy type drugs. Most could be made with "anybody with an A-level in chemistry", he said.

Europol has also discovered that ethnic Chinese criminal gangs - known as Triads - from Hong Kong but now based in the European Union, were switching some of their trade from the trafficking of heroin from South- east Asia to the production of ecstasy for Europe.

Jurgen Storbeck, the acting director of Europol, said that illicit laboratories making synthetic drugs, particularly amphetamines, have been found in most member states. "Some had a capacity of producing up to a million pills a day, some were mobile, whilst others were abandoned every few weeks to avoid detection. This type of large-scale production is controlled by organised crime," he said.

The number of seizures of amphetamines in the UK in 1997 reached a record 18,600, more than six times greater than in 1987.

Mr Harvey also disclosed that earlier this year NCIS made the first commercial seizure in the UK of a drug called DOB or "golden eagle", an ecstasy substitute reputed to be 33 times stronger than normal doses of the drug.

In February, the service found 800,000 tablets hidden in fibreboard that had been sent from the Netherlands. Last December, a further 350,000 tablets believed to be destined for the UK were seized in France. A nationwide alert has been issued on the use of DOB along with a series of ecstasy- type drugs now being manufactured.

Another drug, 2CB, also known as nexus, spectrum or bromo, is related to ecstasy and is becoming increasingly popular at festivals and out-door raves.