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A-Z of Drugs


Z is for Zoomer and Zulu

Neil Wilson
Neil Wilson

Z is for Zoomer and Zulu

Many new words enter the lexicon of the English language every year. The ‘word of the year’ award helps us to keep track of these culturally significant additions. We now use recent inventions such as ‘selfie’, ‘vape’ and ‘toxic’ without much thought. The 2021 award went, unsurprisingly, to ‘vax’ after a welter of new words appearing in 2020 which led to the Oxford University Press claiming that it was unable to make the award that year as it just couldn’t single out one word to sum up the year.

‘Zoom’ was not a new word, but for anybody working from home during the pandemic it was certainly gained a new meaning and was certainly well used. A heavy user of that particular communication app might well be called a ‘zoomer’, but it also gets used in a completely different context. Recent times have seen a re-emergence of the trade in crack cocaine in Ireland. ‘Zulu’ became a term for crack that is fake or bogus and a ‘zoomer’ became slang for an individual who sells such products and then disappears.

Purchasers of such products may be losing little more than their money, although whatever they received in return for payment could have been literally anything. Of greater concern are those who do actually receive the product they thought they were purchasing, or those who purchase crack cocaine that has other substances added into to the mix.

Crack cocaine first began to emerge in the larger American cities in the 1980’s. Some users “wash up” or “cook” cocaine powder themselves to produce crack cocaine. This process is usually completed with baking soda, water and a spoon. Once mixed and heated, the bicarbonate reacts with the hydrochloride of the powder cocaine, forming ‘free base’ cocaine and carbonic acid, in a reversible acid-base reaction.

The now free base cocaine separates as an oily layer. The oil is picked up rapidly, usually with a pin which is spun to allow air to set and dry the oil and enable the maker to roll the oil into the rock-like shape. The name ‘crack’ comes from the sound heard during the formation of the rocks, another slang term for the drug. Cocaine if smoked just burns without any effect, but crack cocaine is absorbed into the bloodstream very rapidly and can reach the brain within eight seconds.

Crack cocaine induces a state of euphoria, supreme confidence, a loss of appetite as well as increased energy and alertness. The high usually lasts only 5-10 minutes after which dopamine levels in the brain plummet, leaving the user to often feel depressed, low or paranoid.

The picture is further complicated by the fact that crack cocaine users are often polydrug users whereby heroin is smoked to a create a ‘comedown’ from the intense high of the crack cocaine use. In that way the next use of crack cocaine is more likely to retain its intensity. This practice is usually known as ‘speedballing’. This is usually planned, but many other take opioids on board due to the addition of fentanyl to both cocaine and crack cocaine by drug producers or dealers. The synthetic opioid is usually regarded as being up to 50 times the strength of heroin. As such the risk of overdose is substantially increased. The United States reported over 70,000 fatalities from drug overdoses in 2019 and over half of those cases involved fentanyl. Opioids and any form of cocaine would appear on the surface to be completely different types of drugs with very different types of users. Fentanyl can however (like most opioids) induce a sense of euphoria, making it attractive to drug producers who are attempting to ‘stretch’ their product and thus dramatically increase profits.

Some experts believe that the addition of fentanyl to cocaine and crack cocaine is actually accidental and down to poor packaging and contamination. Other experts, especially in law enforcement, believe that drug cartels are purposely attempting to convert the occasional or recreational cocaine user into being a customer of fentanyl alone, again increasing long term profits for them.

The problem is the average cocaine user never asked for any of this, but they will be the ones who clearly suffer the most. Cocaine can disguise the dangerous side effects of fentanyl use, and can mask an overdose, even while it is occurring. A person can even go into respiratory failure from the intake of fentanyl but not know until the effects of the cocaine wear off.

The Health Research Board (HRB) in a report in the summer or 2021 made it clear that the use of crack cocaine in Ireland has surged in recent years, if the number of people seeking treatment is anything to go by. In 2014 a relatively low number of 84 cases was recorded on the national treatment database. By 2020 it stood at 414, representing and increase of almost 400%. This represented 16% of all cocaine treatments last year. When broken down by gender it seems that 3 out of 10 women who entered the service for cocaine use were specifically using crack cocaine, but the figure was only 1 in 10 of male clients. It is also notable that the number of women seeking help for crack cocaine use represents an 80% increase since 2018. Entries for treatment of cocaine use (as distinct from crack cocaine) continue to show an upward trend as well with over 2,600 clients being dealt with in 2020 of which around 80% were men.

Concerns were also raised this year when RTE’s primetime investigation team focussed on crack cocaine dealing in specific locations. They felt fit to entitle their piece “One corner in Ballymun, four hours, 42 drug deals: a crack epidemic. “

Putting these two pieces of evidence together it would appear that the official figures tend to mask the situation on the ground in certain neighbourhoods.

As Dr Anne Marie Carew of the HRB noted: "crack cocaine users tend to be in large urban cities and they tend to have a more socially disadvantaged background. What's different in terms of Ballymun is the rate of crack cocaine in the treatment figures. So approximately one in three cases that are coming to treatment for cocaine use are using crack. And this rate is high. What this is telling us is that the problem in Ballymun is acute."

Despite Cocaine and crack cocaine being pharmacologically identical the profile of the ‘average user’ of each type could not be more different. Dr Carew again sums up the situation succinctly:

“In general, those seeking treatment for powdered cocaine use are male, aged 30, in paid employment and most likely to use alcohol as an additional drug. Crack cocaine cases, however, are more likely to be unemployed and homeless. Monitoring these trends is critical for developing tailored approaches to drug treatment.”

We have now finally reached the end of our current A-Z of drugs series of blogs. If you have found the blog posts of interest…then please let us know! In addition if you have ideas for future blog posts then, once again, do get in contact.

Y is for Yaba
'A' is for Amphetamines