Drug dealers hit as officials seize cutting agents

Criminals are being hit in the pocket by investigators targeting the cutting agents used to reap vast profits from small amounts of class A drugs.

Quantities of the cheaper pharmaceutical drugs benzocaine and lidocaine are mixed with cocaine to make the more expensive and illegal drug go further.

Officers seized two tonnes of benzocaine in just one week after monitoring the underground trade for six months.

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The pharmaceutical drugs cost around 10 a kilo to buy but can be sold for up to 50,000 a kilo once mixed with often tiny amounts of cocaine.

Investigators swooped on 83 barrels of benzocaine after it was delivered to four customers at Felixstowe sea port and Stansted Airport.

The seizure was the equivalent of one fifth of Britain's annual legitimate use of the drug as a dental anaesthetic and ingredient in medical creams and sprays.

It is the cutting agent of choice for drug dealers because it has a numbing sensation when placed on the skin, like cocaine.

One Serious Organised Crime Agency officer said: "We expect this to seriously damage the criminal base."

He added: "Drug dealers are greedy people who want to make as much profit as possible, but people will be less inclined to buy drugs as the quality gets poorer and poorer."

The importation of benzocaine and lidocaine is not regulated, but supplying them to the underground drug trade is an offence.

The drugs are used in first aid ointments, throat sprays and sunburn remedies but there is no legitimate use of them in a white powder form.

One 25kg barrel of benzocaine costs about 300 from suppliers in China and India and can be sold for up to 1,800.

The big profits are made by dealers who use it to bulk up class A drugs, sometimes selling cocaine as little as two per cent pure. If they have to smuggle cutting agents as well they could be more likely to be caught.

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