Drug traffickers playing “cat-and-mouse” – UNODC

Drug traffickers are effectively playing cat-and-mouse with law enforcement authorities in their efforts to manufacture highly lucrative synthetic drugs, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The UN agency explains that amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), a group that includes ecstasy and methamphetamine, can only be made with chemicals known as precursors. Due to more stringent controls on the trafficking of the most commonly used precursors, clandestine operators have quickly adapted their methods to invent viable substitutes. This can be done with only minute changes to the molecules.

A worrying new trend is emerging – traditional precursors are being replaced by variants that are outside international control, the UNODC said.

“The process is called masking and the increasing use of masked precursors presents myriad challenges to drug control authorities”, said Justice Tettey, Chief of the Laboratory and Scientific Section of UNODC.

“Traffickers can change the appearance of a chemical by ‘ tweaking’ the chemistry to circumvent controls, and easily recover the parent compound prior to use in illicit manufacture. The possibilities are almost limitless,” Tettey adds.

This is particularly apparent in the ecstasy market.

In 2005, the agency recalled that global seizures of the main chemical used in the illicit manufacture of ecstasy (PMK) declined significantly as a resul of which , the ecstasy market went into decline.

Traffickers were selling ‘ecstasy’ pills which contained little or no MDMA, the active ingredient of ecstasy pills.

However, starting 2010, the MDMA content in ecstasy pills increased again.

According to the UNODC, rapid chemical manufacture combined with mutable formulas are posing greater challenges for forensic analysts, legislators, the police and the justice system.

Laboratory operators conceal the recognizable form of ATS precursors by packaging and smuggling these substances in such a way that law enforcement authorities would fail to detect them, it noted.

By Ekow Quandzie

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