Antidrug officials uncovered 70 pounds of Asian methamphetamine carrying a street value of $3 million at a storage unit in San Gabriel, Ca., last Sunday, the Christian Science Monitor reports. The largest U.S. seizure of the pure and potent Asian variety of the stimulant, it was the latest evidence of the global rise of powerful synthetic illegal drugs.
Two decades after the naturally derived drugs cocaine and heroin hit global markets, the new peril is hitting shores from Asia to Europe like a tsunami, the Monitor says. Synthetic drugs – principally amphetamines, methamphetamine, and the “party drug” Ecstasy – are heavily used in some Northern developed countries but are now catching on among other youth populations.
The head of the United Nations’ drug-control agency says the world is not ready for an “epidemic” that breaks familiar drug-trafficking patterns and is dependent on weak states in much the way international terrorism is. “We are facing a structural change in the drug market,” says Antonio Maria Costa, director of the Vienna-based UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, which is preparing a report about the synthetic boom. “The old dynamic [with cocaine and heroin] that the South produces and the North consumes is collapsing,” he adds, noting that the threat of a “lost generation” is now the worry of places like Manila and Kuala Lumpur as much as Albany and Amsterdam.
Synthetic drugs are made with cheap and easily available chemicals found in cough and allergy medicines. Billions of easily consumed mood pills are flooding youth markets globally. In the U.S., meth and other synthetics are “spreading from the West Coast to the East Coast like a wildfire, and it’s really pounding down in the Midwest,” says Will Glaspy, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in Washington. “We consider this stuff to be the No. 1 threat in rural America today.”
The rise of ATS, or amphetamine-type stimulants, concerns health officials because they say their physical impact is cumulative and is not naturally repaired once use ceases. The UN report estimates the number of ATS abusers worldwide at 34 million, and rising. That compares with about 15 million heroin abusers and an equal number of cocaine abusers — both groups of which are generally older. Those demographics, combined with heightened international pressure against cultivation of natural drug precursors, explain a growing focus by organized crime groups on synthetic drugs, experts say.