Colombian police have seized more than 3,000 synthetic drug pills, prompting comments from the national police director that such substances are "replacing cocaine."
Following a two month investigation, police seized 3,380 capsules of 2CB -- a stimulant and hallucinogenic drug whose effects are a cross between ecstasy and LSD -- in Colombia's third-largest city, Cali. Each pill had a street value of around $72, according to the Colombian radio station RCN.
The high price does not seem to be putting off consumers, judging by comments from Colombia National Police Director Jose Roberto Leon Riaño.
"For the effects that [2CB] produces in the human being, it has been gradually replacing cocaine," he said.
InSight Crime Analysis
The popularity of synthetic drugs is rising in Latin America. Large-scale seizures of such drugs and precursor chemicals used in their production have become increasingly common in recent years, alongside the discovery of laboratories used to make them.
Recent examples include the seizure in Lima, Peru, of 5,000 synthetic drug capsules, including ecstasy, MDMA and 2CB; and an investigation by Colombian magazine Semana which found 2CB, also known as "pink cocaine," was now the drug of choice in Bogota's upper-class party scene.
Much of the trade in Central America is thought to be controlled by Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel. However, there is less certainty about the sources for the drugs in Colombia.
The UN 2012 World Drug Report found synthetic drug production was offsetting the global falls in cocaine and opium consumption, noting rising use in Latin American youth. Ketamine, a sedative used in veterinary medicine, can now be found in Argentina, El Salvador, Uruguay and Peru, it said.
More recently, the US State Department highlighted "the spreading use of synthetic drugs" as a particular concern in Latin America, in its 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy report. It also noted "the reported abuse of prescription drugs containing psychotropic substances" among high school students.
However, the claim from Colombia Police Director Leon Riaño that such drugs are replacing cocaine in Colombia seem implausible. The cocaine industry has been firmly established for many years, and Leon Riaño has acknowledged the boom of the micro-trafficking industry within the country. Moreover, at $70 a hit, 2CB remains out of the budget of the majority of Colombians, unlike cocaine which can be purchased for just $5 a gram.