A bumper seizure of ketamine bottles in Costa Rica shows evidence that the Central American country is seeing growth and diversification of its internal synthetic drug market.
At the Peñas Blancas checkpoint on the Nicaragua border, police arrested a man carrying 200 bottles of ketamine. According to local authorities, the load would fetch around $17,000 if sold in the country.
In 2017, Costa Rica’s border police seized 800 bottles of ketamine from criminal organizations with a total value of $70,000. But the country only saw two registered assaults on veterinary clinics, where the drug is sold as a common anesthetic for animals. This confirms that most of the merchandise has come over the border from Nicaragua.
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In an interview with Diario Extra, Judicial Investigation Agency (Organismo de Investigación Judicial – OIJ) director, Walter Espinoza, said that “we have detected entry of the drug particularly from Nicaragua, where the sale of the product is less restricted…since the substance has a certain level of legality, it moves relatively easily through the market.”
Ketamine is considered a powerful sedative. Its effects on the body are varied and emulate strong hallucinogenic sensations, altering the central nervous system. The drug is also known in the area as “Special K,” “Gato” or “Kit Kat.” It is sold in powdered or liquid presentation and a single dose can sell for $5.
It was only in 2017 that Costa Rica’s drug control police (Policía de Control de Drogas – PCD) confirmed the first case of proven sale of ketamine as a recreational drug. They proceeded to dismantle a criminal gang that was distributing the substance in the country, seizing 30 doses of powdered ketamine and three bottles of the drug in its liquid form.
InSight Crime Analysis
The sale of synthetic drugs in Costa Rica has been gaining ground and has become a window of opportunity for small drug traffickers. Since its transportation does not require any major logistics and presents less risk than cocaine trafficking, for example, gangs are increasingly turning to ketamine.
Ketamine is among the most popular drugs in the country, according to information fromthe Costa Rican Drug Institute (Instituto Costarricense de Drogas – ICD), along with marijuana and K2, also known as “crispy” or synthetic marijuana. This also shows the consolidation of a market that is increasingly attractive among young people.
Costa Rica has historically been considered a drug trafficking transit spot due to its strategic location. However, the increase of internal usage and recent seizure seem to be changing its landscape from only being a transit route to having an, albeit small, internal market.
According to the ICD’s 2017 National Situation of Drugs and Related Activities (Situación Nacional Sobre Drogas y Actividades Conexas de 2017) report, recent seizures recorded a significant increase of synthetic drugs that year, of 1,437 percent for ecstasy and 1,213 percent for LSD.
With higher availability, the usage of illicit drugs in Costa Rica will only continue to increase, and local groups will take advantage of this to increase their profits. These kinds of scenarios create disputes among criminal organizations that seek control of the market and inevitably generate a rise in violence, which increased in 2018.
Regionally, criminal networks in Latin America are capitalizing on the demand for ketamine and selling it on international markets. The most recent case is Colombia, where an organization was filling action figurines with ketamine pills, to send to China, Mexico, the United States, Argentina and Ecuador, according to a report by local authorities.