International action against production and trafficking of synthetic drugs

Increasingly, EU and international cooperation has recognised the importance of monitoring and control of the precursor chemicals necessary for the production of controlled substances. By increasing the vigilance on chemicals necessary for the production of drugs like heroin, cocaine and ecstasy, measures can be implemented to disrupt or inhibit supply. Currently, there are three major international programmes in this area: Operation Purple, concerned with potassium permanganate, used in the production of cocaine; Operation Topaz monitoring international trade in acetic anhydride, a precursor used in the production of heroin, and Project Prism, which is focused on backtracking investigations into seizures of precursors of amphetamine-type stimulants at ports of entry or illicit drug laboratory sites. A total of 20 227 transactions have been notified to the INCB and examined under these operations during the past two years and some evidence exists that these actions have impacted on drug production.

Project Prism is particularly important in consideration of the production of synthetic drugs within the EU. This is a challenging area in which to work because among the large number of chemicals that can be used for the production of ATS are many substances that are required for or are by-products of legitimate commercial activities. Areas of interest to the Prism project include the monitoring of international trade in safrole, used in the production of ecstasy; preventing diversion of pharmaceutical preparations containing pseudoephedrine; and locating laboratories involved in the illicit manufacture of 1-phenyl-2-propanone. Despite the difficulties of working in this area, Project Prism appears to have facilitated better international cooperation, resulting in successful interdiction activities. An example of which, noted by the INCB (2005) in their recent report, was the cooperation between China and Poland that lead to the identification of a major case of smuggling of 1-phenyl-2-propanone into Poland.