The seizure of a rocking horse stuffed with a large quantity of methamphetamine traveling from Belgium to Argentina has exposed yet more evidence of the growing market for synthetic drugs in Latin America.
Belgium airport authorities flagged the toy, which contained two kilograms of methamphetamine, to their counterparts in Argentina in early June.
The Europeans replaced most of the drug with sugar but left a small quantity of the product, which led Argentine authorities to raid three homes in the country’s capital, Buenos Aires. Six people, including three Chinese citizens, were arrested and 48 kilograms of ketamine valued at around $2 million were seized as part of the coordinated operation.
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Methamphetamine is a powerful and very addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system. It is also used to produce ecstasy, a highly popular drug in Argentina.
Ketamine is a potent sedative that also causes hallucinations. It can be sniffed, smoked or injected and it is often combined with other drugs. It is also becoming increasingly popular across Latin America.
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The most recent seizure is further evidence that synthetic drugs are gaining ground in Argentina’s expanding domestic market, one that has traditionally favored substances such as cocaine.
Ecstasy consumption rose by 200 percent among young people in the country between 2010 and 2017, according to a study by Argentina’s Secretariat for Integrative Drug Policies (Secretaría de Políticas Integrales sobre Drogas – SEDRONAR).
Most of the synthetic drugs arriving in the South American country originate in Europe -- a manufacturing market that has also expanded in recent years, according to the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
More than 40 percent of the nearly 60,000 ecstasy pills seized in Argentina in 2018 originated in Germany and 34 percent in Belgium, according to official figures reported by Infobae.
Experts said that the large quantities traffickers were trying to send to Buenos Aires could point to the expansion of local drug labs.
“We have been documenting a rise in the consumption of methamphetamine. The fact that they are used to make ecstasy might point to the existence of home labs,” Carlos Damin, head of toxicology at the University of Buenos Aires told Clarín.
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The synthetic drug market is a notoriously changing one, with new products surfacing every year.
In an interview with InSight Crime in October, Martín Verrier, the National Security Ministry’s deputy secretary against drug trafficking, described the fight against criminal organizations as a “game of cat and mouse because the organizations are very dynamic.”
He also said Argentina’s current economic crisis might have an impact on the local drug market.
“Drugs are a commodity, so any dramatic variation in the exchange rate affects [trafficking] routes. So far, 99 percent of the synthetic drugs consumed in Argentina come from Europe. At the most, we’ve seen tablet manufacturing [here], but with imported raw materials. Maybe now that it’s more expensive to buy the drugs abroad, we’re keeping an eye out for any attempt at local manufacturing.”