Could ‘Miami Cannibal’ Drug Gain Ground in Latin America?

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Synthetic drugs like the one that reportedly sparked a vicious attack by the infamous “Miami cannibal” are becoming increasingly popular in Latin America, as production of drugs like cocaine falls.

Miami police on Saturday shot dead a man after he refused their orders to stop chewing off the face of a homeless man. Officials claim that the assailant, 31-year-old Rudy Eugene (pictured, on the right), may have been under the influence of a synthetic drug known as “bath salts.” The drug — which contains the amphetamines mephedrone and methylone — has been known to cause delusions of grandeur and psychotic behavior among repeat users.

According to Louisiana Poison Center director Mark Ryan, the side effects of the drug are unprecedented. “If you take the worst attributes of meth, coke, PCP, LSD and Ecstasy and put them together, that’s what we’re seeing sometimes,” Ryan told the New York Times in July.

Surprisingly, the drug has been sold online and in convenience stores in the United States since 2009. Although the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a ban on the drug’s active chemicals in October, bath salts remain widely available in the United States.

And the drug is finding its way to market elsewhere in the hemisphere as well. Chile’s La Nacion reported that it had become available in the country as a party drug, and was easily purchased in bulk on the Internet. Chemical expert Luis Alberto Lindermeyer told the paper that although the use of bath salts is not widespread in Chile, its popularity in the club scene could fuel broader consumption in the coming years.

InSight Crime Analysis

The rise of bath salts in Chile is part of a broader trend, as designer drugs become increasingly popular across the region. According to the United Nations’ most recent World Drug Report, a drop in cocaine and heroin production has been offset by a rise in the sale of synthetic drugs in the hemisphere. In addition to the most popular synthetic drugs — Ecstasy or MDMA, methamphetamines and LSD — these include chemical variants of amphetamines, like bath salts, “spice,” a largely legal alternative to cannabis with dangerous side effects, and Piperazine, an anti-parasitic drug often used as a substitute for MDMA.

The trend is hard to counter, due to the difficulty of cracking down on the precursor chemicals used to manufacture these narcotics. Many chemicals used to make synthetic drugs have common pharmaceutical or industrial uses, making it all but impossible for law enforcement to prevent their illict use. Even when chemicals intended for drug production are seized, their often volatile nature makes them difficult to dispose of safely, providing police with an incentive to sell them on the black market.

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