Friday, October 29, 2010

Tracking Synthetic Highs

UN office monitors designer drug trade.

Produced by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Global SMART Update  (PDF) for October provides interim reports of emerging trends in synthetic drug use. The report does not concern itself with cocaine, heroin, marijuana, alcohol, or tobacco. “Unlike plant-based drugs,” says the report, “synthetic drugs are quickly evolving with new designer drugs appearing on the market each year.” The update deals primarily with amphetamine-type stimulants, but also includes newer designer drugs such as mephedrone, atypical synthetics like ketamine, synthetic opioids like fentanyl, and old standbys like LSD.

I have summarized some of the findings below:

The first methamphetamine lab in 15 years has been discovered in Japan. Japanese law enforcement seized a suspected residential methamphetamine laboratory outside of Tokyo, the first such seizure since 1995. Two Iranian nationals were arrested. Given the continuously high price of imported crystalline methamphetamine in Japan, there is an increased likelihood that more domestic manufacturers could emerge.

Record ketamine seizures and use has been reported by Taiwan province of China. The FDA reports that ketamine seizures in the first five months of 2010 alone totaled 1465 KG, nearly 300 KG more than last year. Concurrent increases in use were also noted.

The first methamphetamine laboratory in Turkey was discovered. Local media reported the seizure of the lab, in the southern part of the country. The facility reportedly planned to manufacture 100,000 tablets for retail sale at USD 13.40 apiece. In 2009, Turkey reported its first seizures of methamphetamine totaling 103 KG at Istanbul’s airport, which has become a transit point for methamphetamine traffic from Iran to markets in East Asia.

Law enforcement faces unique challenges when dealing with synthetic drug analogs. Customs officers at Prague’s Ruzyne airport reported arresting a Polish national for transporting a substance initially testing positive for ephedrone, a controlled synthetic stimulant. Confirmatory tests, however, revealed the substance to be mephedrone, an analogue not under international control. The event illustrates the challenges law enforcement face when encountering new synthetic substances not under national or international control.

Amphetamine breathalyzer tests may soon be possible, say Swedish researchers. The June issue of the Journal of Analytical Toxicology report reported that the first breath test for methamphetamine and amphetamine detection was successfully conducted in Sweden. Drugs in the exhaled breath are captured in a filter and analyzed using a combination of liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. Experimental trials on amphetamine-dependent patients admitted to hospital urgency rooms for overdose provided the same results as traditional drug tests.

The U.S. is expanding controls on precursor chemicals for fentanyl and LSD. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has designated a compound called ANPP as a precursor chemical for fentanyl, an extremely potent synthetic analgesic. Earlier this year, the DEA proposed new controls over ergocristine, a chemical precursor sometimes used in the manufacture of LSD. Clandestine laboratories in the United States employ it as a substitute for ergotamine and ergometrine, both of which are already under international control.

The U.S. indicts 15 people in one of the largest MDMA busts ever. The U.S. Department of Justice announced that a federal grand jury indicted 15 men linked to one of the country's largest ecstasy manufacturing and trafficking rings. Two storage facilities were also seized during the investigation, yielding about 710,000 MDMA tablets. Law enforcement authorities seized more than 1.1 million tablets in all. Authorities believe that the group had been responsible for the distribution of hundreds of thousands of MDMA tablets each month.

Belize stops large shipments of methamphetamine precursors bound for Mexico. Customs authorities in Belize reportedly stopped two large shipments of phenylacetic acid (PAA), or roughly 46 metric tons. Phenylacetic acid can be used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Reports suggest the chemical came from China and was ultimately destined for Mexico.

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jes said...

This is interesting and may give rise to insight into the real problems of that face populations.

Adi Jaffe said...

Another great article Dirk. It's good to keep things in perspective and to get the bird's eye view of what is going on around the world. With the rise of prescription drug abuse around the United States and our focus on methamphetamine in the West, it's sometimes hard to remember that a big portion of the world is still dealing with a raging opiate problem.

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