NEWS

Massive output of synthetic drugs reflects growing demand

They’re known as club drugs or weekend drugs. They’re cheap, easy to make and have the reputation of not being addictive. Synthetic drugs, principally ecstasy, have become the latest menace as they become more popular among ever younger users and replace traditional substances. Over the past five years, the quantity of drugs confiscated in Greece has increased dramatically, which police say reflects the steep rise in consumption. The batches of ecstasy that have been seized bear the logos of the laboratories that made them, depicting images such as cars, rabbits, stars and apples. The police are carefully documenting the logos as part of an international effort to track down the manufacturers. Though synthetic drugs are touted by pushers as being non-addictive, the authorities warn that these substances are so complex and are constantly being adulterated that their effects are varied and unpredictable. Users risk damage to the brain and nervous system, even death. When there is a shortage of the precursor MDMA used in ecstasy, drug manufacturers have been known to use strychnine as a substitute. In 2000, a large illegal synthetic drug laboratory was discovered in Kazarma, near Corinth, but most such drugs in Greece are imported. Europe is the leading producer of synthetic drugs in the world. Belgium and the Netherlands have the most laboratories, followed by Britain and Germany. In recent years, there has been increasing production in countries from the former Soviet bloc. Many laboratories have been found in Ukraine and the Czech republic. Estonia is the biggest producer of the synthetic drugs used in Scandinavia, and Poland is known to export large quantities of ecstasy to Portugal, Austria and Denmark. There is evidence of ecstasy being used as currency to pay for heroin and cocaine. Large quantities arrive in Greece from illegal factories in the Balkans. Though Greece does not produce large quantities of illegal substances, it is believed that many of the chemicals used to make them are brought through Greece. Last January at Neo Ikonio, Piraeus, 1,088 kilos of ephedrine were confiscated, enough to make 70 million pills. The ephedrine came from Pakistan and was on its way to the Netherlands. Given that the manufacture of such drugs does not require complex equipment or much space (drug squad officials say an ecstasy lab can be set up in the trunk of a car), the authorities are focusing on controlling the production and distribution of the raw materials, which is also extremely difficult to do, as these are frequently substances that are widely available. But they keep a list that is constantly being added to of widely used substances and records are being kept of international trade in them.