Saturday, October 22, 2011

Drug Cartels & Snake Venom

From the Khaleej Times On-Line, a story by Nithin Belle that stretches the imagination, but not in a positive direction.

Drug syndicates’ hand feared as demand for snake venom rises

22 October 2011 MUMBAI - The seizure of snake venom in Mumbai and Thane in recent days has led the police to suspect that a new syndicate dealing in the poison has emerged, as perhaps demand from drug addicts has grown.

Heroin addicts, who have virtually no space left on their limbs for injecting the drugs, are known to take snake bites on their tongues. Many addicts who have been abusing narcotic substances for years are also known to try snake venom to get a new high.

On Wednesday, Mumbai police arrested one Naeem Bakshi, 38, a Delhi resident, who was trying to sell a litre of snake venom, estimated to be worth Rs40 million, near Sion in central Mumbai. He has been remanded to police custody.

Police sources suspect that consumption of snake venom is on the rise, especially among drug addicts seeking a new high. This could have attracted drug syndicates into what could be a lucrative trade.

Last month, the Thane police arrested three persons who had in their possession 600 gramme of snake venom. Just a few days earlier they had arrested two others for illegally possessing snake venom. According to R.P. Shivdas, assistant commissioner of police, the venom was probably extracted from a king cobra. A few days ago, the anti-narcotics cell of Thane police arrested one Kiran Sagre, 34, from the Karad ST bus stand, with snake venom worth almost Rs25 million.

Police sources here say that snake venom is being sold as an esoteric narcotic and drug-pushers are extracting large sums of up to Rs4,000 for a prick of the poison. It can be highly dangerous, and only a few drug addicts are known to go for it. About two years ago, the Maharashtra government angered environmentalists by deciding to legalise the snake venom trade. The government allowed snake rescuers to engage in venom extraction activities in Nashik.

The objective was to enable snake rescuers, who catch snakes that stray into residential areas, to earn a livelihood. The government had set a ceiling of extracting venom from 8,000 snakes every year.

But environmentalists warned that this would encourage smuggling of snake venom and even result in an illegal trade in snake parts. They feared that the move would also result in large-scale killings of the reptiles.

Snake venom is used by a few pharmaceutical companies in India to produce life-saving drugs and antidotes to snake bites. The venom is usually extracted from the ‘big four’ Indian snakes — the cobra, common krait, Russel’s viper and saw-scaled viper.

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