Rise in production of synthetic drugs poses legal challenges for prosecutors European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation

«We’re not a research lab,» he says, «but there’s a lot of information we’ve been able to obtain over the last several months that we’ve been able to share with other labs,» such as molecular structures and toxicology reports. It binds to opioid receptors and floods the brain with dopamine, which creates intense euphoria but also slows the heart and depresses breathing. For most individuals, a lethal fentanyl dose is about 2 milligrams—an amount so minuscule that in a test tube it looks like a few grains of salt clinging to the glass. Carfentanil is 100 times stronger, making it about 10,000 times more potent than morphine. Crime labs keep autoinjectors of naloxone, the lifesaving opioid receptor antagonist, within reach in case their personnel are accidentally exposed to synthetic opiates.

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The overview provides further recommendations such as increasing the financial investigations into drug trafficking networks and asset recovery. Furthermore, setting up joint investigation teams via the Agency and the organisation of coordination centres or action days by Eurojust can offer an all-encompassing approach to tackle criminal networks. Particular attention is given to cooperation with third countries and legal matters concerning controlled deliveries. Prosecutors face the challenge of proving that producers knowingly use certain illegal and even legal quantities of precursors for these narcotics, or so-called new psychoactive substances . Establishing the quantities used for certain substances is difficult and their composition is regularly modified slightly.

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When the carfentanil wave struck, the county lab scrambled to prepare its analytical tools. One challenge was simply finding samples to compare to seized material. Veterinarians no longer use the substance, and commercial labs don’t stock it. Eventually the coroner’s office procured an expired batch from a nearby zoo. By October 2016, the county toxicology lab had fine-tuned its testing of blood and urine samples using a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer, which can find carfentanil at its smallest detectable dose.

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Trone said his nephew died of a fentanyl overdose alone in a hotel room. A wave of new mind-altering drugs has appeared – a wave that won’t recede. There is a potential for significant harm in Australia if we don’t have adequate systems in place to monitor our drug markets and respond rapidly when specific dangers are detected.


Legal regulations for the use of NPS and precursors vary from Member State to Member State, as no harmonisation has been implemented yet. Cross-border investigations remain cumbersome when some countries have regulations in criminal or narcotics laws, whereas others only apply administrative regulations, creating problems with taking cases to justice. Synthetic cannabinoids – drugs that mimic the psychoactive effect of cannabis – have been linked to injuries and deaths. Media reports would have us believing young people are using synthetic products in droves. The DEA Washington Division is warning area residents of a new drug, emerging in the D.C.

In late 2015, the drug agency persuaded its Chinese counterpart to add 116 synthetic drugs to its list of controlled substances; fentanyl and several analogs were included. In response, underground Chinese labs began tweaking the fentanyl molecule, which is easy to alter for anyone with basic knowledge of chemistry and lab tools. By adding chemical groups, unscrupulous chemists have created new, unregulated variants, some of them even more potent than the original. Kullu SP Gurdev Sharma said in order to eliminate the network of heroin smugglers, a special team of the local police had arrested 23 foreign nationals since July 2019, 17 of which are of African origin. He said the team was keeping a vigil on the trafficking of synthetic drugs in the district.

Even a tiny amount of fentanyl can be fatal, but the drug is turning up in batches of heroin the UK. AAAS is a partner of HINARI, AGORA, OARE, CHORUS, CLOCKSS, CrossRef and COUNTER. After several misdemeanors and a felony heroin possession charge, he got his life back on track, and he is now studying for the law school entrance exam. Get fresh updates on organized crime from across the region delivered to your inbox. A number of scandals involving officials within the government have raised concerns about rising corruption in Uruguay.

FILE – A bag of 4-fluoro isobutyryl fentanyl, seized in a drug raid, is displayed at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration laboratory in Sterling, Virginia, Aug. 9, 2016. The U.S. is looking to reengage with China to stop the do i have a drinking problem flow of illicit synthetic drugs into the U.S. Plant-based drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, and marijuana require large swaths of land and favorable climates. Synthetic drugs, in contrast, have comparatively low barriers to entry.

Last July, police and scientists here were bracing for a new villain—perhaps the deadliest fentanyl cousin yet. «We were hearing about something so dastardly we had to be prepared,» recalls Lakshmi Sammarco, the coroner for Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati. Carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer that apparently had never been studied in humans, was showing up mixed into alcoholism and the blame cycle heroin in nearby cities and felling addicts. That month, a Canadian man was arrested in Calgary after authorities intercepted a 1-kilogram package of carfentanil labeled as «printer accessories,» which he had ordered from China. Other synthetic opiates had found their way into Ohio via Canada, so it was only a matter of time before carfentanil would make the journey as well.

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Katz Boutique was ordered to pay $1.17m in penalties and fees for selling synthetic cannabinoids at their nine smoke shop locations. With regard to drugs trafficking, customers are also shifting to the darknet, paying cryptocurrencies and receiving their delivery via postal package to an anonymised postbox. This phenomenon has increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with organised crime groups adapting quickly to an online environment, using secured communication channels, crypto-phones, cryptocurrencies and darknet markets.

  • We believe that means production costs are down, but because there is so much supply, so are the profit margins.
  • Of course, every law enforcement officer in the region knows about cocaine, marijuana, and probably heroin.
  • «People have to keep in mind, with all the synthetic drugs out there, and the way they’re being mixed together, you never know what you’re actually buying,» says DEA Intelligence Analyst Maura Gaffney.
  • Minor modifications like adding an oxygen atom or shifting a methyl group can be enough to create whole new entities that are no longer on the list of sanctioned compounds.

They are relatively cheap and easy to make, more potent than traditional drugs, and incredibly lucrative. From a drug trafficker’s perspective, synthetic drugs are a far superior product. Lab analysts have set up shop in makeshift office spaces in the hallway. They are coping with a months-long case backlog created by the waves of new opiates washing into the region. In Hamilton County, as in many other jurisdictions, drug dealers can be charged with manslaughter when a customer overdoses and dies, but prosecutors can’t charge a dealer without verifying what he sold. To confirm that victims have overdosed on illegal opiates and to support prosecution of drug dealers, Sammarco’s team must parse the chemical composition of seized samples.

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Some experts have suggested we are already entering a “fourth wave” of the opioid crisis, with fentanyl increasingly being mixed with stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine, combinations known as speedballs and goofballs. Others have noted the emergence of nitazenes, a family of novel synthetic opioids that are more powerful than fentanyl. Public health authorities have detected nitazenes in the Southwest, South, Midwest, and some sections of the eastern United States. China eventually banned methylfentanyl, driving down its production and pushing it deeper underground.

And with no regulation, medical professionals have a difficult time knowing how to treat people who have overdosed on synthetic cannabinoids. Most synthetic cannabinoids — which can be found in convenience stores, smoke shops and online — are packaged to appeal to adolescents. This includes bright, colorful packets and brand names that imply they’re «potpourri» or «incense.» The report provides an overview of complex cross-border drug trafficking cases referred to Eurojust between 1 January 2017 and 31 December 2020.

«It’s not uncommon for us to build up a molecular model from scratch as we go,» he says. A DEA chemist demonstrates by snapping a methyl group onto a plastic model of fentanyl. Another challenge with carfentanil is the dearth of literature on how much would cause a human to overdose or die, explains Bob Topmiller, Hamilton County’s toxicologist. First responders and crime lab chemists are now building a body of research on its effects.

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As illicit drugs become even more accessible than they are now, policymakers must think carefully about how to keep Americans safe and make informed choices about their health. What I have described above is just one possible outcome and, in any event, it is unlikely to happen overnight. However, any such change to drug trafficking would represent a paradigm shift in drug control, especially efforts to reduce drug supplies. In a world where virtually anyone, anywhere can manufacture increasingly dangerous substances, educating Americans — especially young Americans — about the dangers of drug use will become even more important. Canadian police seized these printer ink bottles from China full of carfentanil, which is 10,000 times more potent than morphine. Drug trafficking, in general, remains a highly lucrative market worldwide, with an estimated value of at least EUR 30 billion per year in the EU alone.

Learn more about synthetic drugs and on other helpful online resources such as the American Association of Poison Control Centers and federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The Office of the Attorney General aggressively investigates and prosecutes the businesses and individuals who sell illegal synthetic drugs to Texans. Producers of alcohol consumption NPS often operate more individually and horizontally, not being part of a typical hierarchical structure of drug trafficking networks. The sale and distribution of these drugs is increasingly organised via online marketplaces, especially on the darknet, leading to new challenges in detecting the modus operandi of criminal offences.

Suppliers of synthetic drugs narrowly follow national legislation and use small modifications to create a new NPS, exploiting legal gaps to avoid prosecution. Synthetic drugs are becoming a rage among tourists in the Kullu valley. Sources revealed that availability of various synthetic drugs like heroin, smack, cocaine, etc, is on the rise in the valley.

«We all looked at each other and said, ‘Alright, buckle your seat belts, this is going to get very bumpy,'» Sammarco says. Public awareness of the crisis spiked last spring, after music icon Prince’s death from an overdose of fentanyl. But in the months since then, the chemical one-upmanship has deepened the opiate crisis, as new and nastier substances appear on the streets in places like Cincinnati.

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