Brazil has broken up what authorities are calling the country's largest synthetic drug trafficking network, further demonstration of the growing domestic and regional demand for these types of narcotics.
On August 27, Brazilian officials announced the arrest of 22 alleged members of a drug trafficking group that operated in seven states across the country, reported EFE. According to authorities, the group earned almost $70 million in the past eight months by producing and selling synthetic drugs such as ecstasy and amphetamine.
"In two years, [the drug trafficking group] produced close to 12 million pills [of ecstasy] that were sold within the country," said Bruno Gama, director of the Federal Police's anti-drug division in the state of Goias, reported Globo.com.
Brazilian police discovered eight drug laboratories during the raids, and seized over 1.4 million ecstasy pills, reported the Associated Press. Authorities had been investigating the network since December 2013, according to EFE.
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The massive trafficking network was supplying what appears to be a booming consumer market for synthetic drugs in Brazil. According to a 2014 report (pdf) by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), nearly half of all ecstasy seizures in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean between 2008 and 2012 were in Brazil.
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The growth of Brazil's middle class may be fueling synthetic drug consumption. Expanding middle classes throughout much of Latin America have been linked to higher rates of drug use in the region, most notably marijuana.
Increasing consumption -- and production -- of synthetic drugs is a trend seen in other parts of South America as well. There are signs a growing consumer market in Buenos Aires is causing a migration of synthetic drug production from Europe to Argentina. In Colombia, authorities linked a 2014 massacre in Cali to criminal gangs battling for control of the city's increasingly lucrative synthetic drug trade. In April of last year, Paraguayan officials stated that the country had become a "distribution center" for synthetic drug markets in Brazil and Argentina.