Costa Rica Sees Explosion of Pharmaceutical Drug Smuggling

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Seizures of pharmaceutical drugs illegally trafficked from Nicaragua to Costa Rica have grown exponentially in the last three years, as innovative smugglers reverse a longstanding trend and develop a new market.

In 2010, authorities reported seizing 618 units of illegal pharmaceutical drugs. This rose to 4,315 in 2011 and 7,323 in 2012. However, in the first four months of 2013, Costa Rican security forces have already seized 67,381 units, reported La Nacion, a 109-fold increase from 2010.

The products smuggled from Nicaragua include analgesics, antibiotics, multivitamins, and anabolic steroids. The medicines are purchased in Nicaragua at a lower price, then illegally exported to its Central American neighbor to resell.

The contraband is frequently transported by bus, leaving the prescription drugs vulnerable to unsuitable conditions like high temperatures and extreme sunlight, potentially reducing the drugs’ effectiveness.

According to a representative from Costa Rica’s School of Pharmacy, this new trend poses a significant risk to public safety as these black market drugs may be sold to the public under false labels.

InSight Crime Analysis

The exponential growth in pharmaceutical smuggling along this route represents a complete reversal of previous prescription drug smuggling in the region. According to the report, Costa Rica was considered the main exporter of black market drugs headed towards Nicaragua as recently as 2008. But the significantly lower-priced Nicaraguan drugs have reversed this trend.

Some of the smuggling is carried out by individuals who sell the drugs to family, friends, and associates. However, there are also indications that organized criminal groups are behind much of the trade. The drugs are sold privately, in public places such as parks and shopping areas, and have even been found in pharmacies. In addition, most of the illegal medicines end up far away from the Nicaraguan border, mainly in the country’s densely populated Central Valley — fueling a theory that a more sophisticated transport and distribution system is being implemented. Finally, the huge quantities and rapid growth of this trade show that some larger criminal group may have seen, and then seized on, an opportunity.

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