Police in Colombia have captured the country's "czar" of synthetic drugs, highlighting the growing demand for party drugs among Colombia's wealthy and the opportunism of organized criminal groups feeding the local market.
Police say Hector Alonso Castro Franco, alias "Hector Largo," a leading figure in the criminal groups the Machos and the Urabeños, has been arrested in the western city of Pereira, reported El Pais.
Investigators identified Castro as the main distributor of synthetic drugs in Colombia and the principal producer of 2CB, or "pink cocaine," a hallucinogenic designer drug sold in major cities such as Bogota, Cali, Medellin, Cartagena, and Barranquilla.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Machos
El Espectador reported Castro had taken over the business after the capture of Hector Mario Urdinola, alias "Chicho." Castro is also wanted for multiple homicides in Valle de Cauca, where his operation was based, reported El Tiempo.
According to police, the drugs were processed in clandestine labs in the southwestern city of Cali -- the capital of Valle de Cauca -- and the central Coffee Region. In several cases, police identified traces of veterinary drugs, which they said increase the psychoactive effect of the pills but also make them more dangerous.
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According to media reports, the Machos took over 2CB production by kidnapping a criminally entrepreneurial chemist who had set up his own operation and forcing him to reveal his formula.
Castro inherited the mantle of running the Machos' synthetic drugs business after the January 2013 capture of Chicho, though the operation can now be considered part of the criminal franchise of the Urabeños, which have essentially absorbed the Machos since Chicho exchanged access to drug trafficking routes for arms, financing and manpower in 2011.
The synthetic drugs market is highly lucrative and growing, with Colombia police saying in 2013 that such substances, particularly 2CB, were replacing cocaine. It's a trend that has been seen in other countries throughout the region, though one largely limited to upper and middle class users, with a single gram of 2CB fetching between $60 and $75 in Colombia.