The director of a new Port Hedland drug lab has warned against the rise of synthetic cathinone – or fake cocaine – as the new drug of choice for resource workers.
Safe Work Laboratories founder Mal Beacham confirmed the substance, also known colloquially as bath salts, was being sold over the counter in Hedland along with synthetic cannabis products.
Mr Beacham, whose clientele includes some of the town’s major mining companies and recruitment agencies, said nearly 10 per cent of all tests returned positive readings.
He said methamphetamine remained “by far” the most common, but synthetic cathinone would be the big mover in 2013.
“In 2010-11 the number of reported overdoses in the USA increased sixfold on fake cocaine and I think you’ll see it here,” he said.
“(Fake cocaine) will be the Kronic of 2013 … it will take off.
“It is dirt cheap; you can buy it over the internet for $10. We also know of it being sold locally. We’ve personally been around and been able to confirm that … which is a bit frightening.”
Synthetic cathinones are available in Australia as an “incense”, primarily sold by adult shops and over the internet.
Mr Beacham said retailers promoted the compounds as unsuitable for human consumption to skirt around legal issues.
“In the USA, some, but not all, states have made synthetic cathinones illegal. I think it is safe to assume that as its popularity increases in Australia, the lawmakers will act to make it illegal to own, sell or distribute this compound irrespective of whether it is sold as an incense or for some other use,” he said.
Mr Beacham understood his lab to be the only privately owned local tester of fake cocaine and said SWL could have the sample turned around in 24 hours.
He said because of a perceived grey area in legality over the substance, some workers assumed it to be a safer option to get high without being caught.
“People believe with newerdrugs that are coming out they can get away with using it and it will take a while before labs build up a test for it…which it does,” he said.
A BHP Billiton spokesman would not confirm whether it specifically tested employees for fake cocaine.
“We have sophisticated programs in place, including a random drug and alcohol program that runs 24 hours a day throughout the year across all our sites,” the spokesman said.
A spokesman for Atlas Iron said it could not test for every strand of every substance but the company continued to monitor developments in the drug market.
“Atlas will not tolerate staff working under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” the spokesman said.
Fortescue Metals Group did not respond to a request for comment before the North West Telegraph went to print.