In Italy, a 38-year-old bus driver from Genoa, known only as Roberto, recently tested positive for cocaine during a routine drugs test. Roberto vehemently protested his innocence, claiming that he did not use drugs despite anything the test might have to say. The case was made more confusing by the fact that, according to La Repubblica, Roberto had acquired an exemplary record of service over ten years of employment with the company. Casting around for an explanation, Roberto recalled that he regularly used a certain type of tea as a pick-me-up, claiming that drinking this tea left him feeling more alert. The day before the test he had consumed a cup of this tea, called “delissa alla coca.” The company doctor asked him to bring in some of the tea bags and, in the spirit of true scientific inquiry, drank a cup himself and then took a drug test. The doctor also tested positive for cocaine.
It is difficult enough to understand how Roberto could have been unclear as to the nature of his beverage, given its name and its effect on him, but what is staggering is the fact that the tea had passed without incident through several layers of Italy’s food safety and approval processes. Italian authorities, when presented with a product that is effectively labelled “cocaine tea,” and which is openly advertised as such, somehow deemed it to be safe and legal for sale. On top of this, the cocaine tea has been sold in Italy for years, routinely being shipped in from Peru and passing easily through the entirety of Italy’s customs processes regularly and without incident. Since the incident, however, Italian police have ordered the product to be removed from the shelves.
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