12 March 2024

Pill testing finds meth inside counterfeit online diet capsule

| Claire Fenwicke
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powder being tested at CanTEST

CanTEST chemists can test pills, capsules, powders, crystals, liquids and blotters at its Canberra site. Photo: Nic Vevers/ANU.

A consumer who thought they had bought diet pills had a nasty shock when testing revealed it actually contained methamphetamine.

The orange and grey gel capsule, with Duromine 40 printed on each half, had been purchased online before the person decided to take it to Canberra’s pill testing site.

In a statement from CanTEST, the white and brown powder inside wasn’t the expected weight loss ingredient.

“[The pill was] expected to contain Duromine (phentermine) … [but it] was found to contain methamphetamine and no phentermine or other active ingredients,” it stated.

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Specialised testing techniques were needed to verify the results, as methamphetamine, phentermine and amphetamine have a close chemical relationship.

But mixing them up can be dangerous.

“Methamphetamine is an unregulated substance that can have stronger stimulant effects than phentermine (Duromine),” CanTEST explained.

“Phentermine is a related substance with milder stimulating properties and is prescribed to help reduce appetite in the treatment of obesity.

“There is an increased likelihood of stimulant overdose from counterfeit Duromine purchased online from an unregulated source.”

Signs of overdose or toxicity can include confusion, severe agitation and overheating.

Stimulant overdose can also present through seizures and fits, irregular heart rhythm, and cardiac episodes such as chest pain and heart attack.

One Duromine user told Region it was concerning such dangerous counterfeits were out there.

“I first accessed duromine (and continue to on and off) on my GP’s recommendation and the side effects and financial cost involved being on the medication are significant, so the thought that there could be counterfeits out there is pretty scary,” she said.

“It doesn’t surprise me, though, given how much focus and pressure there still is to maintain a certain body image.”

The user who spoke with Region, and isn’t the person who had the pill tested with CanTEST, accesses the drug through an e-prescription.

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The CanTEST site tested 158 samples between 21 December 2023 and 21 January 2024.

Almost 300 health and alcohol and other drug interventions (harm reduction, overdose prevention, mental health counselling and other general health advice) were held, and 17 of the tested samples were voluntarily thrown out.

The strength of MDMA continues to be a concern as pills continue to contain “significantly more” of the drug than expected.

In two instances where cocaine was expected but not found, the pills contained ketamine instead.

For the second time, the potentially deadly 4-fluoroamphetamine (4-FA) and 25C-NBOMe combination was also detected. 4-FA is an amphetamine while 25c-NBOMe is a hallucinogen.

“Individually, these drugs have caused deaths,” a CanTEST statement warned.

“Combined, the dangers are increased.”

The sample had been sold as 2C-B, which is a synthetic psychedelic drug.

The existence of three new recreational drugs was also discovered through the centre earlier this year.

CanTEST is a free, anonymous service delivered by Directions Health Services in partnership with CAHMA and Pill Testing Australia and funded by ACT Health. It is located on the ground floor of the City Community Health Centre, 1 Moore St, Canberra, and is open Thursdays from 3 pm to 6 pm and Fridays from 6 pm to 9 pm.

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