HomeNewsBrazil's Santa Catarina Becoming Country's MDMA Hub

Brazil's Santa Catarina Becoming Country's MDMA Hub


Authorities have made Brazil's largest ever-seizure of ecstasy in the southern state of Santa Catarina in the latest example of how the production of the synthetic drug is spreading rapidly in the country.

On September 22, military police in Santa Catarina seized over 230,000 ecstasy pills and 48 kilograms of MDMA during their raid of two illegal production facilities in the municipality of Imaruí, stated local law enforcement.

It was, according to the police, the largest single MDMA seizure in Brazilian history. The previous record also came in Santa Catarina, in 2019, when security forces confiscated some 35 kilograms of MDMA in a clandestine laboratory and enough chemical precursors for an additional 70 kilograms.

The southern state is the epicenter of MDMA production in the country. In June this year, Brazil’s Federal Police dismantled a drug production ring in Santa Catarina that manufactured MDMA pills and sold them at music events across the state.

SEE ALSO: Profile of Santa Catarina, Brazil

Increased production is likely tied to rising demand, however, which is thought to have grown significantly in Brazil during the last decade, according to Christian Azevedo, a senior police official currently seconded to the Department of Justice and Public Security in the central state of Minas Gerais.

“MDMA is a trending drug in the party scene [and] not only with upper class [young people],” he told InSight Crime in a June interview.

InSight Crime Analysis

Latin American consumption of MDMA has long been fed by production in Belgium and the Netherlands, the world’s synthetic drug super-producers. This emergence of domestic manufacturing in Brazil is therefore an important shift in the global narcotics trade.

Wholesale quantities of MDMA continue to be trafficked from Europe to the region of course, by individual air passengers and by post, and the “drug laboratories” Brazilian officials refer to more often resemble crude kitchens.

Nor is Brazil even the first South American country to witness the growth of local MDMA production: Argentina and Paraguay have found mid-sized facilities, while Chile’s manufacturing is seemingly growing at a faster rate.

SEE ALSO: Love Honey - The Odd Sexual Stimulant Sweeping Brazil's Party Scenetarina, Brazil

Brazil stands out, however, in several ways. While previously dismantled laboratories in South America mostly consisted of small-scale facilities that would adulterate and “re-tablet” imported MDMA, in 2019 and 2020 Brazil discovered several laboratories with the capacity to manufacture “ecstasy” tablets entirely, according to a 2020 UNODC report.

Almost exclusively located in the neighboring southern states of Santa Catarina and Paraná, the artisanal facilities have also displayed remarkable chemical sophistication.

An InSight Crime investigation in 2020 found that cocaine was sent from Santa Catarina to Europe in exchange for synthetic drugs. Once received, the pills were cut to only contain 10 percent of the initial drug. 

When several ecstasy “pre-precursors” – simpler chemicals used to make those used to make MDMA – were placed under international control, many expert Belgian and Dutch producers switched to helional. According to the UNODC 2021 World Drug Report, one of the only countries in the world to report a similarly rapid switch was Brazil.

Caution is required though. Not only do European MDMA seizures continue to dwarf their South American counterparts, but at present Brazilian producers appear to be independent low-level criminals with little to no ties to major organized crime, says Azevedo.

“I haven’t seen any evidence that large criminal groups , and others have been largely involved in MDMA trafficking,” he told InSight Crime in June.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content

BRAZIL / 29 MAR 2013

The United Nations has criticized the "excessive use of detentions" in Brazil, feeding the problems faced by the country's…

BOLIVIA / 7 JUL 2011

Brazil will soon start deploying unmanned aircraft into Bolivian airspace as part of an agreement with La Paz to fight…

BRAZIL / 19 JAN 2015

A news report in Brazil, citing a government investigation, says the PCC criminal organization uses bank accounts in the United…

About InSight Crime


InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…


InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.


Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…


Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.


Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…