By Maxmilian Wechsler
AN epidemic of ‘knockout robberies’ is raging in Pattaya but it remains virtually unnoticed by the mainstream media. Although Pattaya-based newspapers or websites occasionally report such incidents, they rarely generate much interest – perhaps because it’s been going on for decades and the impact has been lost.
In the last year almost one case per week was reported in the resort. It’s likely that many others go unreported because victims are embarrassed and don’t want any publicity. Some victims may not survive to tell their stories, and their deaths may be reported as drug and alcohol overdoses.
Most of the victims of drugging robberies are foreign males and most of the suspected perpetrators are Thai women or transgenders. Thai on Thai incidents are not unknown.
There have even been cases reported in Pattaya, Phuket and Koh Samui where foreigners drugged hotel receptionists and ransacked safety deposit boxes (see http://bit.ly/1oeteZl). Such crimes can easily turn into manslaughter or murder. The drugs used by the assailant are potentially deadly and an overdose is a very real possibility, especially when mixed with alcohol or if the victim has a medical condition.
If the authorities are serious about tackling this problem, their first step should be to halt the unregulated sale of the psychotropic substances and other drugs used to render the victims unconscious.
Chance meeting foils crook
One European man who was drugged and robbed in Pattaya told The BigChilli what happened. His story is fairly typical except for a most unusual ending.
“After befriending a Thai lady at an open bar early in the evening, we ended up in my hotel room. She quickly called room service and ordered coffee. After it arrived she poured some in my cup, and the last thing I can remember is that she added three spoons of sugar. After drinking it, I passed out almost immediately.
“I woke up 18 hours later on the bed with my clothes on, covered with vomit.
“My old Omega watch, an 18K gold chain and 2,000 baht in cash were missing. Luckily, I kept my passport, and other valuables were in a hotel safety deposit box.
"I felt dizzy, miserable and disorientated for about an hour. After recuperating a little I informed the receptionist and was directed to the local police station where I made a report. Expecting that there was little chance to recover the stolen items or arrest the woman, I packed and moved to Bangkok. It took me almost a week to recover.
“In the meantime I went to see a doctor who said after an examination that I was lucky to be alive. If I were suffering from a serious health problem like a heart condition, I would be dead.
“The doctor told me the amount of drugs the woman put in the coffee must have been very high because of the symptoms I developed. He said that people who drug others in order to rob or rape them will use higher amounts of the substance to make sure the victim falls asleep fast and stays out for a long time, so they have enough time to escape and hide.”
Fortunately the man recovered fully, and that would have been the end of the story except for a strange encounter he had on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok two weeks after leaving Pattaya.
“I saw the woman who drugged me. I knew it was her even though she was wearing a wig, I grabbed her and held her until a police patrol arrived.
“After showing the officers the police report from Pattaya, they took her to the local police station where I met her Thai husband. He apologized for what his wife did and promised to make restitution for my losses. He said his wife was trying to help him pay the instalments on his motorcycle. He asked me to drop the charges against his wife.
Criminals also use Xiemed and Valium to drug people. Other substances are sometimes used. To purchase Xiemed or Valium on Sukhumvit is easy and anyone can do it. This is most likely where the knockout robbers in Pattaya or anywhere else get their drugs. One reason why the Thai Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale of alprazolam and diazepam over the counter is to prevent the kind of misuse that is happening now.
Some criminals sometimes prepare a cocktail consisting of different drugs and add it to a victim’s drink when the opportunity arises. Besides a benzodiazepine such as alprazolam or diazepam, antihistamines such as hydroxyzine (Atarax) and Chlorophen Maleate are often added. Trazodone, a tetracyclic antidepressant marketed as Desirel and Dezodone, may be added as well. Suicidal thoughts are listed as side effects of alprazolam, diazepam, trazodone and other drugs used by the criminals.
The pills are crushed into a powder, or dissolved in water, and put in alcoholic or other drinks. This makes the victim fall asleep so the thieves can steal anything of value, and sometimes this comes to millions of baht.
One has to wonder how many of the unexplained deaths of foreigners in Pattaya can be linked to these crimes. Incidents of foreigners falling or jumping off a balcony are regularly reported, and usually declared suicides. Usually no suicide note is found, however.
The BigChilli made several purchases of Xiemed and Valium on Sukhumvit. After pointing at a sign offering the drugs, the vendors – often from Myanmar – only ask “how many tablets?” After the price is agreed on, the vendors step away and pick up the items from a pouch or plastic bag hidden under a nearby stall selling fashion or other items.
The price for 1.0mg Xiemed and 10.0mg Valium was 300-350 baht for a blister pack of 10 tablets, depending on the stall. The expiration date for Xiemed bought on different days from different vendors was identical.
he sellers said that the Xiemed is made in Thailand and Valium in Karachi, Pakistan. This is printed in English on the blister packs as well.
After one purchase at a stall between Sois 3 and 5 from an Asian man, a Thai woman sitting nearby approached the vendor. The man said in good English: “This is my boss, she controls several stalls here.” The woman, who has been operating in the area for over 15 years, wasn’t amused at what he said and scolded him in Thai.
Before his boss interrupted, the man said that most customers buying drugs for erectile dysfunction, Xiemed and Valium are Europeans, Arabs as well as Thais.
Pharmacists say no to drugs
While psychotropic drugs are readily available on the streets of Bangkok, when The BigChilli visited several pharmacies in Bangkok none would sell Xiemed or Valium. They all said they didn’t have the drugs and they were only available at hospitals on prescription.
Some pharmacists said that if they were caught selling the drugs the punishment could be a very high fine or even a jail term. Atarax, Chlorpheniramine maleate, Desirel and Dezodone are sold legally in many pharmacies and they are quite cheap. Blister packs of Atarax and Desirel containing 10 tablets, for example, sell for about 20 baht and 60 baht respectively in one pharmacy.
The head of pharmacy and a cardiologist at one large Bangkok hospital were both shocked to learn
that Xiemed and Valium are sold on Sukhumvit Road by many vendors. The cardiologist said that he only prescribes these medicines to patients who really need them.
“An excess of such drugs can land a user in ICU or the morgue because of heart failure or other conditions,” he said. “Most victims who survive an overdose will feel unwell for several days and experience nausea.”
The medical professionals couldn’t say whether the drugs sold on the street are real or fake without testing them. “If they are fakes then they could be even more dangerous because they might contain more deadly ingredients,” the cardiologist said.
Both suggested that the FDA be notified, and they seemed confident that action against the sellers would follow. The hospital sells alprazolam on subscription but for a fraction of the price on Sukhumvit. They don’t have diazepam.
A pharmacist at another major Bangkok hospital was also shocked that Xiamed and Valium are sold on the streets. He also said that the FDA should be informed and the culprits arrested. This hospital has both alprazolam and diazepam on subscription, but for much, much cheaper than on the street.
No matter what names they are marketed under, alprazolam and diazepam are strictly regulated in most countries around the world, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden and the Netherlands. The drugs are included under the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances as Schedule IV. Anyone selling these controlled substances in Thailand without a prescription is subject to penalties, as is anyone in possession of them unless a prescription is produced.
An internet search revealed that trazodone appears to be a rather naughty substance. Marketed for depression, some reviewers said it is an effective sleeping pill. Trazodone is not popular with Bangkok pharmacists. Those who sold it to us warned of side effects. One pharmacist working for a large drug store chain said that his company does not sell drugs containing trazodone because they are “bad for people.”
A Pattaya policeman said on condition of anonymity that the drugging and robbing of tourists in Pattaya is large scale. “In some cases we have arrested suspects far away from Pattaya, often in their home province where they have taken the loot.
“Thai women and transgenders are the main perpetrators of this crime. They will put various kinds of sleeping tablets into drinks. They prefer a drunken foreigner because it is easy to slip something into his drink. But some foreigners as well as Thai men drug women and then rape them,” the policeman said.
“The police are genuinely worried about this type of crime committed by criminals who work alone, in pairs or groups. They use various medicines sold on prescription as well as over-the-counter medicines to drug people. The victim might be unconscious within seconds and could remain so for many hours or even days. Often when we are called to the scene of a drugging, we find the victims incapable of communicating or doing anything at all. In such cases we call an ambulance.
Investigation in Pattaya
When The BigChilli looked for Xiemed and Valium in Patttaya they were nowhere to be found on that particular afternoon. Maybe this is different during the night. A few stalls on Beach Road display sex aids and erectile dysfunction drugs, but no signs advertising these two drugs were visible. None of several pharmacies visited in Pattaya had Xiemed or Valium in stock either. They all said the drugs were available only on prescription. However, they did offer sleeping pills like Desirel and Dezodone.
Our team bought a few blisters of Desirel and Ezodone in two pharmacies for 100 baht and 180 baht respectively – for some reason much more expensive than in Bangkok. However, the pharmacists told us to be careful and take only one or two tablets before going to bed and not to drink alcohol. They also warned that side effects are possible. When asked about who is buying these drugs, they said nothing.
The officer also mentioned that a campaign to reduce all types of crime in Pattaya is currently underway. “We have already arrested many suspects,” he said.
Dangerous drugs on Sukhumvit
A story titled ‘Showtime on Sukhumvit’ in the June issue of The BigChilli (visit: bit.ly/SBnFqv) exposed a number of illegal activities going on along Sukhumvit Road including the open display of sex aids and various medications to treat erectile dysfunction. Several stalls also had small boards advertising Xiemed and Valium for sale, but no pills on display. Both can be used to drug people.
A few days after the story was published the sex aids which had been displayed for years disappeared from all but one or two stalls. Most vendors thereafter displayed only photos or catalogs of these items.
As for the erectile dysfunction drugs, only a few packages were now shown in each stall instead of the large number of boxes before the story appeared. Stalls had large signs with the large boards (or small ones that have the same design), meaning it comes from the same source.
These two drugs contain alprazolam and diazepam, respectively, which are psychotropic or sedative hypnotic drugs classed as benzodiazepines. Alprazolam is marketed under brand names like Xanax or Xiemed while diazepam is most commonly sold as Valium. Lorazepam is another commonly used benzodiazepine.
They are all classified by Thailand’s FDA as category 4 psychotropic substances and strictly regulated under the Psychotropic Substances Act B.E. 2518 (1975).
Unfortunately, the demise of the sleaziest category of street stalls on Sukhumvit Road seems to have been short-lived. A recent survey revealed that 31 stalls between Soi 1 and Soi 21 were displaying erectile dysfunction drugs in a large quantity – definitely an increase from a few weeks ago. Five stalls were also displaying small models of sex toys. Twenty one stalls still have signs offering erectile dysfunction drugs, Xiemed and Valium.
One seller from Myanmar claimed that the Xiemed and Valium available on Sukhumvit are genuine but some of the erectile dysfunction drugs are fake and smuggled from neighbouring countries but, of course, we couldn’t verify this.
One stall displaying erectile dysfunction drugs is a particular disgrace as it is located between the Terminal 21 shopping mall and the entrances of the MRT and BTS stations. Thousands of commuters and shoppers pass by it every day.