DRUG peddlers in the country have reportedly formed a syndicate with employees at local morgues in the illicit sale of embalming compound which in turn is used by addicts as an intoxicating substance, it can be revealed.
The substance, which comes in both liquid and powder forms, is used in preserving corpses in mortuaries by making the body an unsuitable host for bacteria and other organisms, in the process slowing down decomposition.
Embalming powder fetches up to $2 000 per kg on the illegal market and authorities are in the dark on the abuse and illicit trade of the substance.
Investigations by Sunday News revealed that employees at local funeral parlours and some hospitals were cashing in on the compound which is in high demand among drug dealers.
The drug pushers are said to prefer the pink embalming powder to the white version of the substance, both of which are exclusively manufactured by a German-based company, Hager Werken Brands Ltd.
A Sunday News crew went undercover pretending to be agents of a drug dealer prospecting to purchase the substance and managed to talk to an employee at a local funeral company who agreed to supply two kilogrammes of powder for $4 000.
The employee who declined to identify himself revealed during an interview guised as deal negotiations, that in one month he could smuggle out of his workplace and sell as much as five kilogrammes of the powder to drug dealers.
The liquid version of the substance is not very common in local mortuaries.
“In one month I can get you five kilogrammes. That is as much as I can get you guys without attracting any attention from my bosses. I only deal with people who have cash, I prefer touch and go kind of deals. Just bring your cash and I will give you the goods,” he said.
Sunday News is also in possession of a WhatsApp conversation with the morgue employee confirming he could supply the powder.
Further investigations revealed that drug addicts sniff the pink powder in the same manner as cocaine, and sometimes mix it with cocaine and other powdery drugs to heighten intoxication.
The liquid form of the substance, which is not popular among local pushers, is used to lace cigarettes and marijuana which are then dried before being sold to addicts for $20 per cigarette or $40 for a twist of marijuana.
“Liquid embalming chemical is not very common because it is difficult to handle especially when transporting which is why our bosses prefer the powder form. The powder is also a little economic and slightly cheaper to import compared to the liquid. I can try to look around for the liquid for you but that might take time. What is readily available is the powder. That I can get you anytime as long as you have the cash that I want,” said the morgue employee.
Embalming chemical is a highly-flammable compound containing formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol and other solvents.
A local chemical engineer Mr Khonzaphi Dube confirmed that it was possible for embalming chemical to be abused for intoxicating purposes, pointing out chemicals such as formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol used to make the compound as highly intoxicating and dangerous substances.
“All of the three chemicals used to make the compound have intoxicating qualities. Ethanol and methanol are both alcohol while formaldehyde is sort of a modified alcohol. It can even be worse than ethanol and methanol. So yes, it is possible for the compound to be used for intoxication purposes. Of course abusing such substances would come with its own side effects. These are highly flammable substances which means the alcohol levels there are a little higher,” said Mr Dube.
Minister of Health and Child Care Dr David Parirenyatwa could not be reached to comment on whether the embalming chemical was a classified substance which needed a licence for one to possess it.
He was not answering his mobile phone for the past two weeks each time Sunday News called.
His permanent secretary Dr Gerald Gwinji’s mobile phone was not reachable.
Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) spokesperson said the matter was beyond the authority’s jurisdiction. He said the compound contained industrial chemicals, while his organisation only governed medicines and other related substances.
He referred Sunday News to the police, who professed ignorance on the illicit trade and abuse of the substance.
National police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said police were not aware that the substance was being abused by drug addicts. Asked on whether the substance was classified under the country’s laws, Snr Ass Comm Charamba said she would need to check with the police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) drug section.
“I’m not aware of that, I’m only hearing it for the first time from you. I would need to check with our drug section to confirm if the substance is classified,” she said.
Efforts to follow up with her hit a snag as she was not picking her mobile phone.
Embalming powder joins the fray of a wide array of drugs that are being abused by local addicts including cough mixture, nyaope and Stopayne tablets.