Officers seize cocaine cutting agent at Stansted Airport

MORE than 80 barrels of benzocaine – a cutting agent used to bulk out cocaine – have been seized at UK ports including Stansted Airport.

In a one-week period in May, officers from the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) confiscated two tonnes of benzocaine (83 barrels) which had been imported by four people into the Essex hub and Felixstowe sea port.

A generous estimate of the entire legitimate use of benzocaine by the UK dental industry in one year is 3.4 tonnes, none of which is imported in powder form.

A spokesman for Soca said: “Cutting agents are the substances used by drug traffickers to bulk out illegal drugs and preserve profit margins. In the past these have often been inert substances like sugar and baby milk powder.

“At present the cutting agent of choice for cocaine traffickers is benzocaine as it most closely resembles cocaine in colour and texture and, as it is an anaesthetic, mimics the slight numbing effect of cocaine.

“This makes it easier to conceal the fact that drugs have been cut, and so maximises the profit at all levels without losing customers. It’s one of the reasons we routinely see seizures of drugs of only 5 to 10 per cent purity.

“The chemical properties of these cutting agents have enabled traffickers to target younger people in the UK – from mid teens to early 20s – with more ‘affordable’ cocaine that masks its lower purity.”

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The importation of cutting agents is not currently regulated, however supplying them to the illicit drug trade is an offence. The challenge in the past for law enforcement has been proving a criminal connection.

Last week, officers delivered the two tonnes to an authorised waste disposal site where it was incinerated.

“We can expect to see traffickers try to switch to other methods,” said a Soca spokesman. “We know what these are and will be watching. Importantly, their preferred agent has been denied to them so they will have to resort to poorer substitutes. These will not mask the cutting as effectively so people will much more easily spot that the drugs they buy are adulterated.”


? Cocaine seized at the UK border is typically between 60 per cent and 80 per cent pure.

? Cocaine seized at street level ranges from typically 24 per cent pure to 2 per cent pure.

? Some criminals are selling 100 per cent cutting agent as cocaine.

? Industry experts estimate that the total use of benzocaine in the UK is between 8 and 10 tonnes a year.

? The UK dental industry uses an estimated maximum of 3.4 tonnes a year

? To produce creams, sprays and ointments (for example Waspeze, which contains 1 per cent benzocaine) requires a sterile laboratory process which is licensed and regulated to protect the public. ? One barrel of benzocaine is 25 kilos. Cost is approx �300 per barrel. Barrels are sold on for approx �1800.

? One tonne of benzocaine is 40 barrels. SOCA seized 83 barrels in one week in May 2010.