Thailand’s ‘$1.4 billion ketamine bust’ turns out to be cleaning products

Thailand’s claims to have seized $1.4 billion worth of ketamine in the country’s “largest ever” such drug bust have turned out to be a “misunderstanding”.

The country’s Justice Minister, Somsak Thepsuthin, blamed the mistake on a “testing error”, saying the seized white powder was in fact trisodium phosphate – a compound commonly used in cleaning products.

Thailand made news headlines around the world when it announced 475 sacks containing 11.5 tonnes of the granular substance were seized by the Office of the Narcotics Control Board on November 12.

Initial field analysis turned the ONCB’s testing fluid purple, prompting them to declare the substance ketamine and triumphantly claim it was Thailand’s largest ever.

Thai police seized 475 bags of white powder from a Chachoengsao warehouse on November 12, in the belief that it was the party drug ketamine. (Police photo)

But subsequent testing of 66 of the 475 sacks revealed they in fact contained trisodium phosphate – a legal substance commonly used as a cleaning agent, lubricant, stain remover, degreaser and even a food additive.

Testing of the remaining sacks is continuing.

The ONCB was unaware that trisodium phosphate would also turn the testing fluid purple, not only a drug like ketamine, according to the justice minister.

“I accept the fact it might have been premature to hold a press conference to announce the seizure of a substance suspected to be a kind of drug,” Mr Thepsuthin said, according to the Bangkok Post.

“But in this case, the ONCB had been informed of the seizure of ketamine in Taiwan, investigated and found an undeniable link to it. It would have been a mistake if I did not make it public.”

Investigations into where the substance found in the Chachoengsao warehouse came from and what it was to be used for are continuing.

It is believed it may have been used to conceal illicit drugs.

The man who rented the warehouse is wanted over the seizure of ketamine in Taiwan.

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Elijah McClain’s death prompts Colorado health department to investigate ketamine

While much of Elijiah McClain’s death last summer has focused on the actions by Aurora, Colorado, police officers, the use of ketamine by paramedics that night is now under new scrutiny by the state’s health department.

CBS Denver reports the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which grants individual agencies waivers to use the sedative ketamine and can look into complaints about its use, is now launching an investigation.

“The Colorado Department of Health and Environment received numerous complaints, beginning June 24th, that provided additional information regarding a ketamine administration in August 2019,” a spokesperson said in a statement. 

McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, died in August last year after he was detained by police and injected with ketamine.

Mari Newman, the attorney for Elijiah McClain’s family, has long questioned how and why the powerful sedative was used. 

“The weaponization of any kind of medication used involuntarily against a person just trying to go home is very, very troubling and it absolutely needs to be addressed,” she said.

Newman believes it should have been done sooner, but she says better late than never.

“They certainly should have looked into it long ago but I am glad they are doing it now,” Newman said. 

“It shouldn’t take millions of people across not just the country, but the world, speaking out and questioning the treatment of Elijah McClain before the government does what it should have done all along,” she said. 

McClain’s case received renewed attention in recent weeks amid nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality following the death of George Floyd in May in Minneapolis. He died last August after three officers stopped him while he was walking down a street. A 911 caller had reported him as suspicious. 

Police placed McClain in a chokehold and paramedics administered 500 milligrams of ketamine to calm him down. He suffered cardiac arrest and was later declared brain dead and taken off of life support.

-Contributing: The Associated Press 

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