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through its "Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program" (ACCBP)

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Franzini: "it is alarming that youth do not consider methamphetamine to be a harmful drug"

Rafael Luis Franzini, the Deputy Secretary of the OAS Inter-American Drug Control Commission (CICAD) discussed the increased consumption of synthetic drugs in the region, the health hazards that it poses, and the suggestions we can give to the authorities on how to confront the use and abuse of these narcotics that can be produced in any country and, according to the most recently released publication by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, claim that consumption is on the rise.

Below is a summary of the interview that Dr. Franzini conducted on Friday, September 16, 2011, with the Colombian Channel NTN 24.

What are amphetamines and metamphetamines?

They are a group of chemicals derived from ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine, with psycho-stimulant effects, that reduce the feelings of fatigue, sleep and appetite.

Among the numerous derivatives of amphetamine, and in addition to its stimulating effect, there are some drugs that also have hallucinatory power. These are the ones most found in the illicit drug (or black) market.

Although these drugs are principally consumed orally, some products, such as methamphetamine can be smoked or inhaled (snorted).

How do they affect the body?

Amphetamines have an effect on the central nervous system (brain) where they interfere with several neurotransmitter systems (dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, and noradrenalin).

They increase the release of dopamine (as does cocaine, but use a different receptor), which alters the regulatory mechanism of hunger (creating an anorectic effect). They prevent the re-uptake of serotonin (similar to antidepressant drugs).

The hallucinatory effects have a mixed mechanism; they involve both dopamine and serotonin, mediated by receptors in different areas of the brain (the motor cortex, the hypothalamus and the limbic system)

The impact on the system is mediated by adrenaline-noradrenalin, explaining the motor activation, decreased fatigue, accelerated heartbeat, and sweating, etc.

Psychological effects seen with amphetamine use consist of a rise in ‘empathy’ which translates into greater socialization, ability to understand oneself and others, as well as the disappearance of fear and timidity. These effects of course depend on the dosage, method of consumption, frequency, as well as the environments in which they are consumed.

The ‘positive’ effects tend to diminish with repeated and chronic usage (the phenomenon of tolerance), prompting the subject to increase dosages and achieve effects that were previously attained through lower doses. Increasing doses leads to predominantly more negative effects, such as anxiety, irritability, and aggressiveness. This leads to the development of dependence. Chronic use is also associated with toxicity (nerve damage), which manifests into psychotic symptoms (similar to schizophrenia), abnormal regulatory mechanisms of what should be automatic functions of the body (such as control of body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate), and a degeneration of muscle and kidney damage.

Why are metamphetamines replacing other drugs?

Basically due to the intensity of its effect, accessibility (ease of production and marketing), they act like other drugs by generating dependency, affect the structure of the nervous system that is key to the survival functions, and interfere with its operation.

To what can we attribute the rise in synthetic drugs in Latin America, and why young people prefer them?

As in almost all drug-related problems, you will find more than one cause. The case we are dealing with is no exception. However, we can refer to the most obvious causes, among which we can list the ease of production and marketing, targeting audience, namely young people, which is associated with entertainment, as well as other factors, such as that this is a fashionable drug, which is nothing but marketing the product.

What should governments in the hemisphere be doing to stop the sale and distribution of illicit drugs?

Continuing with what we discussed before, we must bear in mind that the emergence and consumption of these drugs has come from multiple causes. This understanding should guide our response. We need to learn why it is consumed, who consumes, what is consumed and under what circumstances.

For example, if we know that these are drugs produced from ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, we can try (similar to the way Mexico did) to control its use, and the sale of medications containing these substances. If we know the other components or ingredients, we can use this same information for both prevention campaigns as well as dependency treatment. In theory, this could lower consumption levels. If we know that these drugs are produced in labs, we have to change the paradigm.  Instead of waiting for transactions of contraband through illicit trafficking, we can go directly to the production facilities in a given territory.  

How can we compare drug consumption in Latin America to that of Europe?

One point to consider or keep in mind is that the drug problem is not the same across countries, and even within a given state. Consumption in South America is definitely increasing, similar to the phenomenon that took place in North America a decade ago. What is certain is that in some Latin American countries, these drugs are appearing in consumer studies. This is disconcerting because, for example, it has been found that it is easy to access this type of drug and moreover, many do not see these drugs as dangerous.


OAS Training Institutes of Foreign Affairs on Trafficking in Persons in Kingston, Jamaica

Report on two day conference held in St. Kitts & Nevis entitled “Confronting the Challenges of Youth Crime and Violence in Society: Defining a Multi-Sectoral Response.”

June 24, 2009
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Alertamerica.org: Report on Citizen Security 2011
PDF,  10 MB
Documentos Claves de la OEA sobre Seguridad. Volumen II
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La Seguridad
Pública en las Américas: Retos y Oportunidades
La Cárcel: Problemas y Desafíos para las Américas
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