Pa. police seize shipment of the narcotic khat

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By Valerie Russ
Philadelphia Daily News

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Philadelphia police have made their first seizure of the drug khat, a narcotic plant that is popular in East Africa and the Saudi Arabian peninsula.

Undercover narcotics cops on Wednesday seized 740 pounds of khat that was being delivered to an East Falls address, said Lt. Frank Vanore, a police spokesman. The value of the drugs has been put at about $148,000.

Vanore said it was the first seizure of khat (pronounced COT) in Philadelphia and perhaps the first in the state. No arrests had been made as of yesterday afternoon.

The khat leaves and twigs that are routinely chewed as part of socializing with friends in places like Somalia and Yemen were wrapped in banana leaves and packaged in boxes.

"It is not illegal in Europe or Africa; it's legalized there," Vanore said. "But here, we have it as a Schedule 1 narcotic" the same as cocaine and heroin.

Narcotics Chief Inspector William Blackburn said the khat is typically found in places like Detroit, Minneapolis, Dallas, Boston and New York.

"According to intelligence reports, it's prevalent in areas that have large populations of people from Somalia, Ethiopia and Yemen," Blackburn said.

Blackburn said khat leaves are chewed like tobacco or added to tea or food products.

The drug produces an excitement and euphoria that is similar to the effects of cocaine or marijuana, and can last anywhere from 90 minutes to 24 hours.

The side effects can also include hallucinations and paranoia, Blackburn said.

Khat, which is also spelled Qat or Kat, is a natural drug that comes from the Celastrus edulis plant. Khat contains cathine (d-norisoephedrine), cathidine and cathinine. Cathine is also one of the alkaloids found in Ephedra vulgaris, according to Internet reports.

"We just want to make people aware of it," Vanore said. "We don't think it's being frequently used here now, but our concern is that it's very, very inexpensive and it could become a problem."

He said it neither looks nor smells like marijuana. It has a very strong odor.

"It doesn't have a very good shelf life," Vanore said. "Once it's out for a certain period of time, it loses its narcotic effect."

Staff writer David Gambacorta contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 Philadelphia Daily News

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