Scottish Drug Czar Reveals Smuggling Techniques

By Dirk Hanson 07/01/11

Cocaine pastes and liquids have changed all the rules. No more Mr. Potato Head, unless he's made out of coke.

Low-tech approaches like this are outdated.
Photo via thesharkguys

Fake coffee beans fashioned from cocaine painted brown. Cocaine infused into lumber, sealed in tombstones—and turned into paste for shipment abroad in packets of jam. These are all examples of “how sophisticated they are,” said Kenny Simpson, head of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA), and the nation’s titular drug czar. The jam “felt like a package of jam,” he said. “It weighed the same as a package of jam. When you squished it about there was nothing to suggest there was anything in it. So you really had to probe to find out that there was actually cocaine inside it.”

Also working in the smugglers’ favor these days is the fact that “the value of the drugs is so high that it doesn’t make sense to have a single route use it all the time and use the same people, because that leaves you vulnerable.” The dope traffic over international borders is both high-tech and highly decentralized.

Earlier, we told you about the cheap and easy availability of cocaine throughout Europe, even as overall cocaine use has been tailing off in the U.S. over the past few years. With prices low and demand high on the continent, enterprising entrepreneurs are doing what such people do—if they are drug criminals, that is. Simpson told STV in Scotland: “It changes all the time. You can’t put drug trends and the drug trafficking business into boxes.”

Nonetheless, the former Scottish police officer said there had been “an increase in couriers who internally conceal the drug.” But we’re not talking about the old-style drug mule, who swallowed pellets of cocaine in condoms. Now, liquid cocaine is swallowed in bags invisible to most X-ray machines. Liquid cocaine can also be impregnated into clothing, says the SCDEA. During a recent visit to Colombia, Simpson says, scientists showed him a variety of ways to make objects out of cocaine, or suffuse them with cocaine paste or liquid. It’s not just a plot twist in the movies anymore. Drug criminals, says Simpson, are nowadays only limited by their imaginations, and law enforcement needs help. “My only appeal would be, to members of the public, is do not be deterred from picking up the phone. We encourage people to come forward.”

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]