From kratom to bath salts – Rare psychoactive drugs entering Chile

Chilean authorities have seized a group of new psychoactive substances (NPS) rarely seen in Latin America in recent months, underscoring the increasingly diverse nature of the country’s drug markets.

Customs at Santiago International Airport reported on September 8 that they had searched two shipments from the United Arab Emirates in mid-August. They discovered 40 kilograms of kratom powder, a psychoactive substance extracted from the leaves of Southeast Asian kratom, according to a press release.

“[Authorities detected] the illicit operations carried out by a person living in Puente Alto, who imported significant quantities of a hallucinogenic substance”, said Inspector-Prefect Paulo Contreras, national anti-narcotics and organized crime chief of Chile.

SEE ALSO: Meth, Fentanyl, Ecstasy: synthetic drugs flourish in Latin America

Kratom, which can act as either a stimulant or an opioid depending on the dose, has been banned in Chile in early 2021. It is now listing as the predominant plant-derived NPS in the country’s Drug Early Warning System (Sistema de Alerta Temprana de Drogas – SAT).

Other listed NPS have also recently been banned in Chile. Police grasped 425 doses of brolamfetamine in a Santiago neighborhood in August – a psychedelic the SAT had warned about last year. In May, airport customs detected nearly 2 kilograms from Spain of a risky synthetic cathinone, a class commonly referred to as “bath salts”.

In the same month, the authorities announcement that seizures of amyl nitrites, a class of inhaled depressants also known as “poppers”, were at record highs this year. And in July 2021, law enforcement confiscated an undeclared amount of fenethylline, an amphetamine-like substance popular in the Middle East.

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The NPS market in Latin America is growing quite rapidly. However, that pace is even faster in Chile, which, alongside its Southern Cone neighbors Brazil and Argentina, is now among the region’s top hubs for NPS.

Overall, the country had detected more than 60 NPS as of December 2020, the second highest number in all of Latin America after Brazil, according to a 2021 synthetic drug study. report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC.)

The report notes that this dominance continues in opioid, benzodiazepine, and stimulant-type NPSs, including synthetic cathinones. Indeed, since 2014, there has been not only a jump in the NPS detected in Chile, but also a real diversification, according at the 2021 Observatory of Drug Trafficking in Chile.

SEE ALSO: Ketamine dominates the synthetic drug market in Chile

The increase in Chilean seizures partly reflects the country’s better law enforcement and border control capabilities, as well as its national early warning system and tougher NPS legislation, Martin Raithelhuber said. , expert in synthetic drugs and international coordinator of the UNODC Global SMART programme.

“[However] there is probably a growing demand for synthetic stimulants and hallucinogens,” he told InSight Crime.

For now, most of these drugs arrive in Chile by air parcel from Europe, especially Spain. Yet the appearance of kratom and fenethylline suggests that smugglers could be creating NPS trafficking routes from the Middle East and Asia.

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Alvin J. Chase