April 13, 2024

Unveiling the Shadow The Rising Threat of Scopolamine in Crime and Its Global Impact

Scopolamine: A Colorless and Odorless Danger

Scopolamine, also known as hyoscine, is a tropane alkaloid drug with deliriant and hallucinogenic effects. While it has legitimate medical uses, scopolamine has gained notoriety due to its use in crimes involving coercion and theft. Derived from plants in the nightshade family such as Datura stramonium, scopolamine is most potent in a refined and concentrated form.

Scopolamine occurs naturally as a colorless and odorless crystalline powder that can be dissolved in water or alcohol. This lack of discernable attributes has aided criminals who stealthily administer scopolamine to incapacitate victims. By respiratory or transdermal means, just micrograms of scopolamine are enough to cause delirium and memory impairment within minutes. Under its effects, individuals experience confusion and reduced free will, rendering them pliable to suggestion. Perpetrators have exploited this to convince victims to surrender valuables or assist with criminal plans.

Crimes Facilitated by Scopolamine

Reports of scopolamine-facilitated crimes stem primarily from Colombia and Ecuador, where the drug has been used in theft and assaults known locally as “burundanga attacks.” Victims often have no recollection of the events, hampering criminal investigations. In one case, multiple tourists in Cartagena, Colombia mysteriously awoke the next morning having been robbed of luggage, ID cards, and money after recalling feeling strange at a nightclub. Tests confirmed scopolamine in their systems, indicating they had been targeted.

Scopolamine has enabled robberies and kidnappings wherein seemingly willing victims made ATM withdrawals or emptied bank accounts under the influence. But its most devious uses center on coercing victims into prostitution or organ trafficking rings. With scopolamine, traffickers manipulate individuals into “agreeing” to sell their kidneys, livers or enter prostitution. The combination of scopolamine with threats of harm to loved ones if they go to the authorities contributes to the hidden nature of these crimes.

Physical Effects and Overdose Potential

Physically, Scopolamine causes severe side effects even at moderate doses. Symptoms can include hot flashes, severe confusion and disorientation, dilated pupils, rapid heartbeat, blurred vision, dizziness and paralysis of accommodation making distant vision impossible. Overdoses lead to delirium, hallucinations, urinary retention, fever, convulsions and death through respiratory failure in some cases. Scopolamine poisoning has psychiatric consequences as well, potentially resulting in long-term memory problems or psychosis.

The toxicity of scopolamine presents risks even for voluntary recreational users. But for crime victims who are non-consensually dosed, escaping the situation and locating help can seem an impossible task. With judgment, cognizance and coordination impaired within minutes, they are at the mercy of the perpetrators who administered the drug covertly. Heightening the danger is that scopolamine can have cumulative effects when re-dosed, exacerbating mental incapacitation over time.

Alarming Rise of “Devil’s Breath” Usage

While transnational criminal organizations in South America have exploited scopolamine for many years, its usage now seems to be spreading globally. Sensationalized media has dubbed it “Devil’s Breath” for its ability to subjugate victims nearly instantly and extract damning confessions or steal identities. Reports warn of its availability and purported recreational use in developed countries like the U.S., U.K., Spain and Italy, predominantly at nightclubs or music festivals.

Critics argue the proliferation of scopolamine is linked to the dark web and cryptocurrency enabling anonymous sales. Police seizures also uncover the organized smuggling of scopolamine powder to criminal groups abroad. As scopolamine becomes more widespread, victims are also diversifying beyond traditional demographics of tourists and migrants. Forensic experts urge heightened public scopolamine-awareness and enforcement efforts to curtail its underground trade. But ultimately, greater international cooperation may be needed to crack down on the source of a substance endowing new and disturbing criminal methods every year.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it