Chilean authorities have seized a cluster of new psychoactive substances (NPS) rarely seen in Latin America in recent months, highlighting the increasingly diverse nature of the country’s drug markets.
Customs at Santiago International Airport reported on September 8 that they had searched two shipments from the United Arab Emirates in mid-August. They discovered 40 kilograms of kratom powder, a psychoactive substance extracted from the leaves of the Southeast Asian kratom tree, according to a press release.
“[Authorities detected] the illicit operations carried out by a person living in Puente Alto, who imported significant amounts of a hallucinogenic substance,” said Prefect Inspector Paulo Contreras, Chile’s National Anti-Narcotics and Organized Crime Chief.
Kratom, which can act as a stimulant or opioid depending on dose, was banned in Chile in early 2021. It is now listed as a predominant plant-based NPS on the country’s Early Drug Alert System (Sistema de Alerta Temprana de Drogas – SAT).
Other listed NPS have also recently been interdicted in Chile. Police seized 425 doses of brolamfetamine in a Santiago neighborhood in August – a psychedelic the SAT had warned about last year. In May, airport customs detected nearly 2 kilograms arriving from Spain of a risky synthetic cathinone, a class commonly referred to “bath salts.”
The same month, authorities announced that seizures of amyl nitrites, a class of inhalant depressants also known as “poppers,” were reaching record levels this year. And in July 2021, law enforcement confiscated an unreported quantity of fenethylline, an amphetamine-type substance popular in the Middle East.
InSight Crime Analysis
Latin America’s NPS market is growing quite rapidly. However, that pace is even faster in Chile, which alongside its Southern Cone neighbors of Brazil and Argentina is now among the region’s foremost hubs for NPS.
Overall, the country had detected over 60 NPS by December 2020, the second-most in all of Latin America after Brazil, according to a 2021 synthetic drugs report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC.)
The report notes that that dominance holds across opioid-, benzodiazepine-, and stimulant-type NPS, including synthetic cathinones. This is because since 2014 there has been not just a jump in NPS detected in Chile, but also a real diversification, according to Chile’s 2021 Drug Trafficking Observatory.
Higher Chilean seizures are partly a reflection of the country’s better law enforcement and border control capacities, as well as its national early warning system and tighter legislation on NPS, said Martin Raithelhuber, a synthetic drugs expert and International Coordinator for the UNODC’s Global SMART Programme.
“[However] there is a probably growing demand for synthetic stimulants and hallucinogens,” he told InSight Crime.
For now, most of these drugs arrive in Chile by air parcel from Europe, particularly Spain. Yet the appearance of kratom and fenethylline suggests smugglers may be creating NPS trafficking routes from the Middle East and Asia.