With the change of seasons, folks are digging into their closets and bringing out clothing they haven’t seen in several months. For the warmer climates, fabrics are always lighter and cooler, but for some Chilean customers, the clothing they recently purchased included more than cotton and linens. According to a recent tweet from Chilean Customs officials, officers discovered 29 clothing items impregnated with MDMA coming from Spain at the Santiago Airport.
MDMA, sometimes referred to as Molly or Ecstasy, is a synthetic drug that acts as a stimulant and hallucinogen. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “High doses of MDMA can affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature. This can lead to a spike in body temperature that can occasionally result in liver, kidney, or heart failure or even death.”
Hiding illicit drugs within the fibers of material is not a new way of smuggling. In 2018, it was reported that police in South America seized a huge haul of liquid cocaine that was soaked into Colombian football shirts. Tests showed all the garments had all been impregnated with cocaine hydrochloride. It was reported that this technique is used by smuggling gangs to avoid detection. Liquid cocaine is poured into the fabric of clothes, a process which increases the weight of the garment by around 15 per cent, and then the process is reversed in a lab to extract the drug without losing a single gram.
In 2013, The Age reported that three people were readying a method of extracting cocaine impregnated in towels and clothing imported by others from South America. The prosecutor told the County Court the men’s’ possession of 1.7 kilograms of cocaine worth up to about $800,000 involved the conversion of the drug saturated in the items into a form for distribution.
A study1 dating back to 2005 discussed a case where a woman travelling from South America to the Republic of Ireland was detained at Dublin Airport and articles of clothing she had in her luggage were found to be impregnated with cocaine. The study notes that the amount of powder recovered from the garments was approximately 14% of the total weight of the garments. An examination of the garments indicated that the method of impregnation was by pouring liquid containing cocaine onto the clothing.
For the Chilean Customs officials, this was their first large seizure of clothes infused with MDMA following purchase and training on their new chemical identification tools.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) organizations charged with stopping narcotics, new synthetic drugs, and other illicit substances from crossing borders need narcotics identification tools that provide immediate analysis at the port of entry. For rapid identification of suspected narcotics in the field, among the ships, at the airports, at the borders, there are handheld chemical Identification and narcotics analyzers that utilize the well-established analytical techniques FTIR and Raman spectroscopy.
We previously wrote about how the China Seas Coast Guard was intensifying its efforts to eradicate illicit drug trafficking using the latest chemical analysis technology. For the Coast Guard, the key to putting a dent in this traffic is active interdiction, on-the-spot, real-time detection when vessels are intercepted, stopped, and searched either in coastal waters or on the high seas.
With low concentrations of very toxic drugs becoming increasingly common, an analyzer with low dose identification is a valuable addition to the analytical detection and identification toolbox of law enforcement and border protection and will doubtless save lives. (Read the white paper Lesser and Lesser becoming Deadlier and Deadlier: Detecting Low Doses of Lethal Opioids.)
The next time you stop by a department store window and see the latest clothing that came off the fashion runways, remember the custom officials who are protecting us from drugs arriving on the airport runways.
1McDermott SD, Power JD. Drug smuggling using clothing impregnated with cocaine. J Forensic Sci. 2005 Nov;50(6):1423-5. PMID: 16382839.