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Australia’s Honorary Consul Larry Cunningham has warned Australians to avoid Thai beach parties. He believes that young Australians partying in southern Thailand are drinking a potentially deadly drug cocktail made from the kratom leaf that is being trafficked by criminals who prey on travelers when there are under the influence of the drug.
Cunningham, based in Phuket, said “The drug kratom in often mixed with the insect repellant DEET as well as cough medicine, cola and ice, leaving users in a stupefied and vulnerable state. The victims of rapes, assaults and thefts committed at Thailand’s beach rave parties usually fail to report the crimes to the police, he said, leaving the extent of the problem largely unknown”. He went on to say “What do you do if you are out taking this stuff and you are dragged away in the night and raped by a pack of Thai guys”.
The Kratom tree is an evergreen tree that is part of the coffee family. The tree grows in South East Asia and traditionally its leaves were used for their medicinal properties. It is psychoactive and when the leaves are chewed they uplift your mood. Despite growing naturally in the country it has been outlawed for more than seventy years. It was originally banned due to the reduction of the government’s tax revenue on opium distribution.
The pharmacological effects of kratom on humans, including its efficiency and safety are not well studied. The use of kratom is not detected by drug screening tests but it can be identified in more specialized testing. Side effects of using the leaves are thought to me mild although more serious effects can include convulsions, hallucinations and confusion, but these symptoms are thought to be rare.
The drug has been banned in Thailand since 1943, however Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitisir announced in August 2013 that his department were considering legalizing kratom to stop people from using yaba and cited a study that found that kratom leaves are less addictive than caffeine and that the plant could be an alternative for those who want to quid stronger drugs that have more severe side effects such as yaba or methamphetamine (ice).
Mr Cunningham said, on the eve of his retirement after eight years as Australia’s Honorary Consul, that Australian parents would be shocked to know how Thai criminals target young Australians and other foreigners at parties like those on Koh Phangan where up to 30,000 party goers rave on the beach while sipping cocktails from buckets. “They are some of the worst criminals in Thailand, rapists, murderers and thieves and some are corrupt police” Cunningham said. He went on to say that one distressed Australian woman turned up at the Australian embassy in Bangkok wearing only a T-shirt and her bikini. She had been gang raped and had all of her valuables stolen during a party and the following day she has been put on a bus to Bangkok. He also criticized the portrayal of the parties by Fairfax Medial Travel writer Ben Groundwater as glorious debauchery and his strong advice is for people to stay away. “These are dangerous places, even groups of revelers are targeted by these criminals” Mr Cunningham said. “Previously the buckets contained mixes like cheap Thai whiskey but now the drinkers have no idea what is in there” he said, but also commented that many of the more than 200,000 Australians who visit Phuket each month came to Thailand thinking they can do things that they cannot do back hoe, including breaking the law. “They get plastered and walk around with their shits off and jump on motorcycles drunk” he said and that half of the average 50 Australian deaths in Phuket each year were avoidable, many of the deaths are caused by road traffic accidents and falls from high story hotels. He said while the Department of Foreign Affairs website carried warnings for travellers, more ways should be found to publicise risks in places like Phuket. “We have got to get the message across that people shouldn’t leave their brains behind when they come to Thailand.” Mr Cunningham said he will live forever with the “wailing” of relatives who have come to Phuket to take home the bodies of their loved ones. “It’s just heartbreaking to see.”
He urges Australians to take out medical insurance, and be sure you know what is covered. He recounted the story of an Australian who fractured his skill in a motorbike accident in Phuket. Even though he had insurance the insurance company refused to pay out the $60,000 hospital bill as he did not have a motorbike license in Australia. The man’s father had to take out a loan to foot the bill. Cunningham believes stories like this should be front page news in order that Australians become aware of the risks.