Seizures of synthetic drugs have skyrocketed in Argentina, a possible sign that the authorities are making progress in identifying and decommissioning these types of drugs, whose chemical make-up is constantly changing in order to skirt existing legislation.
During the first ten months of 2016, authorities in Argentina seized 139,204 synthetic drugs in Argentina. That is a 500 percent increase compared to the same period in 2015, when 22,244 synthetic drugs were seized, reported Clarín.
On November 10, nearly 25,000 pills of ecstasy were seized in two operations.
Authorities are taking steps to create more effective legislation against synthetic drugs. Under an Argentine law that went into effect in 1989, only drugs which are included on a banned list are considered illegal. This raises a major problem in combating the synthetic drug trade, since chemical compositions are constantly changed to take advantage of legal loopholes.
The government is planning to add 61 new synthetic drugs to the list of prohibited substances, increasing the number of banned items by 25 percent. According to Clarín, however, updating the list of prohibited substances is an extremely slow process. It has been revised only twice since 1991, once in 2010 and again in 2015.
In order to overcome that legal difficulty, the authorities are also attempting to make the list of prohibited substances broader and more inclusive so that they can prosecute cases involving synthetic drugs that have only been slightly modified from previous iterations, according to Clarín.
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The synthetic drug trade is essentially a constant cat-and-mouse game between the producers of synthetic drugs and those in the government seeking to outlaw them. With producers continually coming up with new formulas, it appears authorities are destined to play catch up unless they broaden the definition of "illegal substances," similar to what is being attempted in Argentina. While this may result in more seizures, it could also target consumers of the drugs, rather than producers.
The synthetic drug trade in Argentina has increased in importance in recent years, with consumption driven largely by the country's party scene. Synthetic drugs are also a growing issue throughout much of Latin America. A 2014 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) suggested that synthetic drug consumption is rising in much of Central and South America, particularly Brazil and Argentina.
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This increase in consumption appears to be spurring more production of these drugs at the local level. Previously, Argentina and other other nations in Latin America relied on European and Canadian producers to export synthetic drugs to the region (pdf). However, a growing number of drug laboratory busts in South American nations suggests countries such as Argentina are growing less dependent on foreign producers.