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Synthetic Drug Designers Being Targeted In Brazil

In its efforts to thwart drug dealers from flooding the country with synthetics, Brazil's top health agency struggles to keep up with new formulations.

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By John Lavitt

04/21/14

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In an attempt to circumvent existing laws, drug traffickers in Brazil are funding projects at home and abroad to design synthetic drugs. The goal of the new line of drugs is to produce effects similar to popular illegal drugs while creating a temporary veil of legality. The Brazilian Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA) is doing its best to keep pace with the latest developments.

In Brazil, a drug is considered illegal only if it is included in ANVISA’s list of prohibited substances. The drug traffickers elude the authorities by inventing new synthetic drugs that are not on the list. This cat and mouse battle is heating up as the financial stakes increase, with drug traffickers needing their investments to pay off.

The inclusion of a drug on the ANVISA list must be requested by the International Narcotics Control Board (JIFE), the United Nations, or one of the country’s internal drug enforcement agencies. Afterwards, ANVISA experts study the substance to determine whether it should be on the list. As expected, such a study takes time and resources.

Renato Pagotto, an officer with the Brazilian Federal Police’s Drug Enforcement Office, described the challenge: “The drug traffickers who produce synthetic drugs hire these ‘drug designers’ to come up with new formulas to circumvent the laws in each country. They simply produce new drugs with small modifications in the chemical molecules, forming substances that are not yet covered by law.”

Battling this new wave, ANVISA plans to update its list more frequently. The most recent update was on Feb. 21, 2014 when 21 drugs were added. The new drugs included Methylone and 25I-NBOMe, which are similar in effect respectively to Ecstasy and LSD. The targeted population for these drugs are middle-class teens who typically attend raves.

According to the Federal Police, most of the new formulas are developed in Europe, then produced in India or China. Users and dealers often are unaware that the substances are new, said São Paulo Public Prosecutor Cassio Roberto Conserino. “They don’t know that these aren’t the original drugs and that they may be even more damaging.”

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