An excellent article on the Vice website on 20th August says that a new era of toxic, man-made highs could “dissolve” national boundaries and transform the global drug trade. It says that much of the fight against illegal drugs involves the idea of keeping drugs “out” of a country, entirely built around how drugs have traditionally been produced and sold, with much of the global drug economy is truly global – needing opium from Afghanistan, cocaine from South America etc. Most drugs seized by national authorities are interdicted at the border, not by police on the streets. However, the article warns, the whole concept that underpins the global drug trade — authorities tighten the border, traffickers find new ways around it — is being challenged by a new way of doing things. Drug policy experts and law enforcement have all recorded a boom time for synthetic drugs, which are made entirely in labs that often mimic the effects of plant-based drugs, but which are being mass-produced in chemical factories, marketed online, and often smuggled undercover via the global postal system. Manufactured anywhere, from DIY bathroom labs to huge chemical factories, synthetic drugs are cheaper and easier to make than cocaine and heroin because there is no reliance on the cultivation of plants. It provides examples from many parts of the world, then looks at the biggest source – China – and the impact in the US, particularly the synthetic opioid Fentanyl. One thing the article highlights is that banning synthetic drugs means banning specific chemical formulas, which has produced a toxic game of “whack-a-mole” where a drug’s chemistry has been tweaked to sidestep the law, making the resulting product increasingly toxic and unpredictable. The article concludes that if current trends continue, the production, sale, and consumption of synthetic drugs could eclipse that of plant-based drugs. Borders would become even less relevant to traffickers and their profits while compromising law enforcement’s ability to monitor or regulate drug supply via seizures at borders.
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