HomeNewsBriefUN Drug Report Highlights Shifting Patterns in Precursor Chemical Use
BRIEF

UN Drug Report Highlights Shifting Patterns in Precursor Chemical Use

COLOMBIA / 26 JUN 2014 BY MIMI YAGOUB EN

The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC)'s most recent report on the global narcotics trade has placed a heavy emphasis on the illegal use of precursor chemicals in drug production, reflecting changing tendencies in regional drug production and trafficking and efforts to control the trade.

The 2014 World Drug Report (pdf) highlights the global need to control the diversion of legal chemicals into drug production. According to the report, controlling the overlap between the illicit use of these chemicals and their legal commercialization has been a key aspect in combating the global narcotics trade since the 1990s but the issue has become all the more important with the continued rise in the production and trafficking of synthetic drugs and the migration of cocaine production.

The report's statistics show a substantial rise in precursor chemicals illegally trafficked in South America. Between 2002 and 2012, the region accounted for 12 percent of the volume seized globally, behind North America with 59 percent. However, when the range is reduced to between 2007 and 2012 the biggest seizures -- 60 of the total -- were made in South America.

Global seizures of potassium permanganate -- the precursor drug used to make cocaine hydrochloride (HCL) -- were largely concentrated in Colombia between 2007 and 2012 (80 percent of the total volume). However, compared to the period 2002-2006 average annual seizures in Colombia dropped by half, while Peru and Bolivia saw seizures increase three-fold and 27-fold respectively.

At the same time, Mexico and Central America saw high seizures of the main precursor chemicals used to produce methamphetamine and other amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) -- ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Central America registered 14 percent of all seizures made globally between 2007 and 2012, and was described as an emerging transit region, while Mexico alone accounted for 11 percent of seizures. In 2012, the number of methamphetamine laboratories dismantled in Mexico rose from 159 to 259, and it remains the country with the highest seizure rate of the drug in the world, followed by the United States -- the main market for Mexican meth.

Although interdiction efforts have seen some success in reducing illegal trafficking of chemicals, the annual report highlights the use of sophisticated tactics by criminal groups, such as setting up front companies, in avoiding security controls. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Although the UNODC report admits that statistics on precursor chemical trafficking are not easy to translate into hard conclusions regarding their prevalence or use, the information gathered on worldwide seizure trends does provide some insight into the changing reality of the global drug trade.

The falling levels of potassium permanganate seizures in Colombia compared to Peru and Bolivia come at time of a decrease in cocaine production in Colombia, while Peru has taken over as the world's leading cocaine producer. However, the change also likely reflects changing production techniques as Colombian criminals adapt to controls on chemicals by seeking out uncontrolled substitutes and illegally producing rather than importing substances from the legal market.

Placing controls on chemicals can also lead to a migration of trafficking and production. The development of Central America as a chemical transit region is likely a result of controls on precursors imposed in Mexico in 2008. Since then, not only have chemicals poured into Mexico through Central America, but meth production operations run by Mexican groups, especially the Sinaloa Cartel, have also migrated to Guatemala and Honduras.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

MEXICO / 8 MAR 2012

With the election of Mexico’s next president less than four months away, his party's record on organized crime could be…

ELITES AND CRIME / 20 OCT 2015

Guatemalan authorities arrested a mayor accused of stealing over $1 million in municipal funds, a case that is representative of…

COLOMBIA / 21 MAY 2013

While there is no doubt that the FARC have only a tenuous control over some of their more remote fronts,…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution Met With Uproar

6 MAY 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime launched its latest investigation, Venezuela’s Cocaine Revolution¸ accompanied by a virtual panel on its findings. The takeaways from this three-year effort, including the fact that Venezuela…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…