The trafficking of synthetic drugs such as methamphetamines (MDMA), fentanyl, and ecstasy is on the rise in Latin America, with new markets, routes, and substances that challenge the traditional predominance of plant-based narcotics, InSight Crime, an organization that studies organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, indicated in a mid-September report.
“Synthetic drugs have been gaining ground recently, not only in our region, but globally. However, it is worth differentiating between methamphetamines, ecstasy, and fentanyl,” Carolina Sampó, coordinator of the Center for Studies on Transnational Organized Crime in Argentina, told Diálogo on September 30. “In the case of [fentanyl], it’s a synthetic opioid […], which generates high levels of addiction and causes high incidence of overdose deaths in the United States and Canada.”
“Fentanyl is a phenomenon that occurs much more in the United States, but it would be a wake-up call if it were to appear in the southern part of the continent,” organized crime expert Eugenio Burzaco, former Argentine Secretary of Security told Diálogo. “The situation regarding fentanyl consumption is complex in the U.S. because of the 50,000 to 60,000 deaths per year among addicts.”
Mexican methamphetamines are exported in large quantities to the Asia-Pacific region, fentanyl is added in South America to make them more potent, and the flow of ecstasy from Europe to the Southern Cone is increasing, the report added. On the other hand, ketamine is becoming an essential ingredient in drug cocktails such as tusi, also known as pink cocaine.
In recent months, Colombian and Panamanian authorities detected an increase in the commercialization and consumption of tusi, which is composed of cocaine, LSD, and MDMA, a combination of psychotropic substances that causes hallucinogenic effects and a feeling of euphoria.
Thousands of young people consume the drug leading criminal organizations to seek them out in the process of buying and selling the highly addictive drug, radio broadcasting station RCN Colombia reported on September 20.
In September, Panamanian authorities dismantled in Panama City laboratories that produce tusi, while the National Police arrested Colombian and Mexican nationals involved in the crime, Panamanian news site Telemetro reported.
For Burzaco, “Latin America is advancing in the trafficking of methamphetamines and ecstasy, and their commercialization sometimes replaces drugs derived from plants, such as coca and marijuana.”
Another substance that puts authorities on alert is kratom, a tropical plant native to Southeast Asia whose leaves contain compounds that have psychotropic effects. On September 8, the Chilean Customs Service reported the seizure of 40 kilograms of kratom at the Santiago International Airport in two parcels from the United Arab Emirates.
Following the discovery, María José Rodríguez, head of the Chilean Metropolitan Customs Control Department, said that this drug is new to the illegal market and warned that its use is highly harmful to health and can be deadly when mixed with other substances.
According to the InSight Crime report, the trafficking of new psychoactive substances (NPS) in Latin America is increasing at a rapid pace, perhaps even more so in Chile, which together with Brazil and Argentina are among the largest NPS centers in the region.
Chilean authorities identified more than 60 NSPs in December 2020, the second highest number in all of Latin America after Brazil, according to a 2021 report on synthetic drugs from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, InSight Crime indicated.
“Synthetic drugs appear to be here to stay and do not necessarily compete with plant-based drugs. On the contrary, the increase in the consumption of all drugs in recent years seems to show that it is difficult to think of a replacement of one type of drug for another, but rather to think of new users and those who use different types of drugs at different times in their lives,” Sampó concluded.