Experts study rise in deaths involving young people and drugs on the Costa del Sol

There were more than 25 cases in Malaga province in just two months last summer, and many of the victims were only in their twenties

JUAN CANO MALAGA.

A 19-year-old boy out with a friend for an evening. A 20-year-old, running across the AP-7 motorway, naked. A soldier, 24, who throws himself into a swimming pool after partying all night. A girl, 20, consuming with her boyfriend. A mother in her thirties going for a night out with her friends. A 31-year-old British man trying to jump from a balcony into a swimming pool, although from that distance it was impossible for him to reach the water.

All these cases, which have been reported by SUR in recent months, are different types of people in very different situations, but there is a common denominator: analyses carried out after their deaths show that they all tested positive for one or more drugs. The National Police and the Institute of Legal Medicine (IML) have begun investigations after a sharp increase in deaths associated with consumption of drugs in Malaga province.

The data is still being studied and it is being refined as much as possible to only include deaths with certain characteristics: young or middle-aged people who were not known to have any illnesses, who took drugs more or less occasionally and, in general, did so when they were out for the evening.

During the period under investigation, the number of deaths after taking drugs was three times higher than usual in the province

To put it another way, deaths which are hard to explain unless they occurred from an adverse reaction to psychotropic drugs, and ruling out cases of acute drug addiction and illnesses associated with it. On the other hand, the study has included deaths through other causes such as being run over, drowning or falls, where it has been shown that the victims had consumed drugs and their deaths were the result of "unusual" behaviour such as stripping naked and crossing a dual carriageway in the middle of the night.

Period of study

The period being studied covers a couple of months, from mid-August to mid-October last year. During that time there were more than 25 deaths in Malaga province associated with the consumption of narcotic substances, although some may be discounted in the end if, after investigation, other causes of death are found. Curiously, there are only two women among the victims.

Police are also investigating cases where people were run over or had drowned after taking drugs and behaving strangely

To understand the dimensions of this rise in drug-related deaths, this newspaper has consulted different police, forensic and legal sources to see what the average per month would normally be in Malaga province.

"It is rare for there to be more than four in a month," one of them told us. In the period being analysed, the average is more than 12 a month, in other words three times higher than usual.

The different specialists we consulted said, however, that there could be many factors behind this rise in deaths. One, as simple as it may seem, is the pandemic and easing of restrictions due to the mass vaccination of the population. "That could have led many people to feel more uninhibited than usual, because they had not been able to go out for so long," said one source from the judiciary.

Another of the factors to be taken into account is that these deaths occurred in the summer, when more people are inclined to go out late at night, so one of the variables of the study is to compare this with the same time in previous years, although obviously 2020 does not serve as a reference.

In 2019 there was also an increase, but "not as pronounced as this one," and curiously it didn't occur in the summer but during the spring.

Possible adulteration

The third factor has more to do with the composition of the substances than with sociology and this is the one, really, which most concerns the authorities.

The shadow that hangs over each of these increases is the possibility that the drugs had been adulterated, which is why it is essential to determine which types the people who died had taken.

The drug present in most of these deaths is cocaine, although in several cases ecstasy had been taken, such as José Carlos, a 19-year-old who lived in the Netherlands and had come back to Malaga for a holiday to see his mother and brother. He died on 16 August after ingesting several tablets while out partying with a friend. The police arrested three people in connection with this case.

One of the possibilities is that the cocaine had been cut with some substance in a lethal proportion, and this appears to have been what happened in Cáceres, where two people died and another 15 were poisoned after an excessive amount of atropine (a substance that acts on the central nervous system, first by stimulating it and then depressing it) in the white powder.

However, another possibility being considered by the specialists is that it hadn't even been adulterated, but the victims had simply snorted cocaine of a higher purity.

"It could be that some of those who died, many of whom were foreigners, were used to consuming lower purity cocaine in their own country. If they come here on holiday and snort more than they normally would and on top of that it has a higher percentage of cocaine, that could explain an adverse reaction," said one of the sources we consulted.

"They need to get to the root of the problem," said a source. "The most important thing here is to go through the chain and find the stash which the drugs they consumed came from and analyse it to see what it is made of. That is the only way to find out with certainty whether the drugs had been adulterated or not," he said.