THE DANGEROUS AND potentially fatal chemical, chloroform, that should be sold only as a prescription drug, is being sold locally over the counter in at least two of the enterprises with which THE STAR made checks.
The unregulated sale of chloroform presents a disturbing possibility. If placed in the wrong hands, the drug may be misused as a tool of abduction, kidnapping and possibly rape. Inhaling chloroform vapours depresses the central nervous system and breathing. Coming into contact with a substantial amount over a short period of time can cause dizziness, fatigue, and head-aches.
Chronic chloroform exposure may cause damage to the liver and to the kidneys, and some people develop sores when the skin is immersed in chloroform. The issue becomes more of a concern with the latest flare up of abductions and rapes.
Chloroform is a clear, colourless, heavy, sweet-smelling liquid, used in refrigerants, propellants, as a solvent, and sometimes as an anaesthetic. It was once widely used in human and veterinary surgery, but over time has been replaced by less toxic, more easily controlled agents.
In March 2005, there was a string of robberies in Portmore, St. Catherine. It was reported that the robbers used chloroform to 'drug' the residents so they could gain entry to their homes. There have also been other cases where the use of chloroform is suspected.
Inspector Duetress Foster-Gardner of the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), told THE STAR of a recent incident where a young girl was abducted by a 'taxi driver'. The victim told the police that the driver had a small bottle filled with a substance which he sprayed in her direction. She reported feeling dizzy and later woke up feeling weak and realised that she had been raped.
Even though the girl's symptoms were typical of those faced by persons who come into contact with chloroform, Inspector Gardner could not confirm if this was indeed the substance used. She told THE STAR, "I really am not sure, I can only speculate and surmise."
An officer from the Forensic Laboratory told THE STAR that the fact that the chemical is being sold over the counter should be of concern because the "chemical is dangerous, especially from a carcinogenic point of view." If the chemical continues to be sold freely 'over the counter', without any form of screening, this could lead to a rise in the number of such cases.
When THE STAR spoke to a representative from the Phar-maceutical Standards and Regulatory Affairs unit, she said that "Chloroform is a prescription drug that should only be sold to pharmacies, doctors and hos-pitals." She added that they had to issue permits to anyone wishing to import the substance. She stated that schools may order the chemical for themselves but was quick to point out that no independent individual should have access to it. "What would a normal person do with chlo-roform? It's an anaesthetic."
Enterprises using the chemical as sweeteners or preservatives would not be regulated as they would be importing the substance as a raw material. And while no other type of organisation is allowed to sell the product over the counter, one of the companies discovered to be selling it told THE STAR "Yeah man, you can just come in and buy it, you don't need a licence or anything."