PMB police bust Mandrax factory

2009-06-23 00:00

A DRUG manufacturing syndicate in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands has been bust by police. They recovered drug ingredients to the value of more than R27 million as well as narcotics manufacturing equipment, and arrested three men.

The Pietermaritzburg SA Police Service organised crime unit (OCU) with the assistance of the National Intervention Unit, found 230 kilograms of methaqualone powder and other toxic chemicals almost ready to make Mandrax pills, at a makeshift laboratory at Rosedale farm between Ladysmith and Colenso.

Senior Superintendent Hennie Laatz of the OCU said police were tipped off about the clandestine laboratory at a rural homestead.

“We have been investigating the case for two to three months, and on Saturday evening we secured the homestead. We found 230 kg of methaqualone powder that was left in a shed to dry and 75 kg of chemicals used to manufacture mandrax. In total this could make approximately 610 000 tablets, and at a national street value of R45 a tablet, would amount to R27,5 million.”

One of the three men who were arrested is the owner of the homestead and police believe the other two worked with him in the manufacturing.

On arrival at the homestead on Saturday evening, Laatz said, the police could smell the chemicals. “Drug manufacturing chemicals have a very profound smell and they can burn you.”

He said SAPS in KwaZulu-Natal have developed the capacity within the OCU to specialise in the identification of chemicals used in the manufacturing of illicit drugs.

“We secured the premises due to insufficient light and we waited until Sunday morning when we went in and discovered two shed structures that were closed with mesh wire to allow for good ventilation, and inside we found the powder”.

He said forensic experts from a chemical laboratory in Pretoria were called to conduct “complete forensic tests”.

Laatz said drug manufacturing laboratories are a health risk. “One of the concerns is that this area is a rural habitat with a lot of people and we found that waste from the labs was disposed of in the area, also posing threat to the environment.”

He said a private company has been hired to remove the equipment and rehabilitate the area.

“I am also concerned that the people who manufacture these drugs are not clinically or academically trained and that means the processes are not clinically correct and the tablets pose a major health risk to users.”

The suspects are expected to appear in court tomorrow.

According to Laatz, there is also the possibility that the Assets Forfeiture Unit will seize other assets believed to have been acquired from the proceeds of the crime.

The laboratory is believed to be part of a bigger drug syndicate.

A team of investigators led by Captain James Ndlovu are investigating the case.

Laatz has appealed to anyone who may have suspicions of a similar operation to contact the PMB OCU at 033 845 2535.

COMMONLY known as Mandrax, M-pills or buttons, the drug is not taken orally, but is crushed and mixed in a pipe (or in the neck of a broken bottle) with dagga. Methaqualone is one of the most commonly used hard drugs in South Africa. The street value of each tablet is about R45, but can fluctuate with supply and demand.

According to reports, Mandrax is smoked to get a greater “rush” than given by dagga alone.

Mandrax is highly addictive. People become physically dependent on it and have severe withdrawal symptoms in rehabilitation.

Information published on the SA Police Service website states that people want to smoke Mandrax because it:

•Relieves tension, mental stress, anxiety.

•Relieves the side-effects of over-stimulation or withdrawal associated with other drugs.

The short-term and long-term effects of using mandrax are similar to other central nervous system depressants and include reduction of mental activity, cardiac and respiratory depression as well as the development of tolerance, psychological and physical dependence.

The specific concern as stated by the SAPS regarding illicitly manufactured methaqualone is the fact that laboratory analysis has revealed that most of the dosage units on the South African market contain significant amounts of the precursor chemical o-toluidine, which is reasonably suspected to be a human carcinogen.


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