Last week six men in Gothenburg were charged after a police raid showed them to be in possession of a kilo of cocaine.
The drugs turned out to be cut with the substance tetramisole, commonly used by vets to treat worms in animals.
“It is not unusual that we find tetramisole and other substances in the cocaine when we do a raid. And it is becoming more common,” said Lotta Rapp of the Swedish National Laboratory of Forensic Science (Statens kriminaltekniska laboratorium – SKL) to daily Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).
In 2007, tetramisole turned up in 7 percent of the cocaine dealt on Swedish streets.
In 2008 it had increased to 15-20 percent. And since then it has tripled to close to 65 percent, according to the laboratory statistics.
Despite warnings from the EU issued three years ago that cocaine cut with tetramisole was being circulated in Europe and cautions from the United States where two people have reportedly died of the side effects, Swedish authorities have failed to issue warnings.
In the US, a public warning was issued in 2009 after the Drug Enforcement Administration sounded the alarm.
According to Björn Beerman, a professor at the Medical Products Agency (Läkemedelsverket), the presence of tetramisole makes an already dangerous drug more hazardous.
Although the side effects are fairly uncommon they are nevertheless very serious.
According to Beerman, side effects are fatal for around 10 percent of affected users.
But officials with the Swedish National Institute of Public Health (Folkhäsoinstitutet), the Swedish agency that generally issues health warnings, don’t think it is their responsibility to inform the public of this danger.
“In this case it is more a question of acute poisoning and because it is a drug related issue, I wonder if this shouldn’t be a question for the Swedish poisons Information Centre (Giftinformationscentralen) which is part of the Medical Products Agency,“ said Anders Persson of the National Institute of Public Health to SvD.
But at the Medical Products Agency, they pass the buck back to the Institute.
“It is if it was a registered drug with side effects that we have a responsibility, but even so there is nothing that says we couldn’t say something. However, I think that this is more a question for the National Institute of Public Health, they have a broader assignment,” Per-Åke Sandvold of the narcotics unit at the Medical Products Agency told the newspaper.
But according to Berne Stålenkrantz, the chairman of the Swedish Drug Users Union (Svenska Brukarföreningen) the practice is in line with Swedish policy not to inform addicts about such dangers.
“But the way we see it is that those that use must have a right to information and in this case we feel it would be appropriate to inform them,” he told SvD.