Police in Argentina have uncovered a drug lab and seized 200,000 ecstasy tablets and precursor chemicals in Buenos Aires, in a bust that indicates criminals may have begun domestic production to cater for the country's growing party drug market.
According to Security Minister Sergio Berni, the small laboratory is the first synthetic drug laboratory ever found in the capital. It was found to contain 25,000 tablets and the primary materials to produce a further 100,000, reported La Nacion.
The bust was one of 15 raids throughout the capital, which turned up a total of 200,000 ecstasy tablets, as well as five guns, cocaine and cash, reported Terra Argentina. According to Berni the materials for the drugs originated in China.
National police arrested the laboratory's owner -- a Spanish national who had previously served prison time in his homeland for similar crimes -- and four other suspects, among them a nightclub bouncer accused of distributing the drugs. Berni said the arrests were the result of a wider police effort to target ecstasy dealers.
InSight Crime Analysis
Argentina has a small, but apparently growing, market for ecstasy. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), it is one of the Latin American countries with the most cocaine, amphetamine and ecstasy users -- along with Uruguay, Chile and Colombia.
A 2011 Argentine government study found that lifetime ecstasy use had risen from 0.3 to 0.7 percent among the general population from 2004 to 2010, and from 0.4 to 1.6 percent among the 25 to 34 age group. Around a quarter of young people said it was easy to obtain. As highlighted by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) 2011 Annual Report, while use in countries such as the UK remains much higher, Argentinean use now far outstrips that of various other European countries, including France.
Media reports indicate ecstasy sold on the Argentine market is often brought from Europe. In August 2012, Argentine police broke up a European group accused of trafficking ecstasy and other illicit drugs into the country. That same month, a man from the Netherlands -- one of the countries with the highest reported ecstasy seizures in 2011 -- was caught at the Buenos Aires airport with nearly 30,000 tablets. However, the current case indicates that European criminals may be recognizing the potential profits to be made by producing ecstasy within Argentina, rather than bringing it in from abroad.