A drug known as ‘shabu’, which is really nothing more than methamphetamine with a new slang name, is increasingly trafficked through Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. The National Institute of Drug Abuse defines methamphetamine – also known as meth, blue, ice, and crystal, among many other terms — as a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system. Methamphetamine can also cause a variety of cardiovascular problems, including rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, and higher blood pressure.
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) is working hard to stem the flow of shabu, but it’s difficult. Shabu is easy to conceal and can be micro-trafficked in small packages, disguised and mis-labeled as innocent substances, transported in barrels among other products or on small vessels from port to port.
Recently, with the help of a handheld material analyzer, the PDEA seized a P1.8- billion shabu shipment (Piso, the Philippine peso, is the official currency of the Philippines) at the International Container Port at Manila. Bureau of Customs (BOC) officials were able to locate the container inside the Container Port and conducted an X-ray examination that revealed the presence of suspected drugs. When BOC officials opened the container, declared as containing plastic resin, they found 276 packs of shabu worth a total of P1.8 billion.
PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino said that the drugs were seized after PDEA’s international counterparts provided a tip that a shipping container from Vietnam was arriving in Manila with a cargo containing a huge shipment of illegal drugs. This information became available after local police in Vietnam seized an estimated 300 kilos of shabu in Ho Chi Minh City that used similar packaging to that of the drug packaging recovered in Manila. The shabu was concealed in 276 packages of tea put in bags and then placed in sacks.
The handheld chemical analyzer used by the PDEA officials is capable of identifying more than 15,000 individual substances in an average of 30 seconds or less. It can help identify a broad range of unknown chemicals and narcotics in the field quickly, safely, and confidently.
The analyzer utilizes dual technologies – Raman and FTIR – for orthogonal analysis of a broad range of potentially dangerous solid and liquid chemicals. By integrating both Raman and FTIR into a single analyzer, operators harness the power of each technology while enabling a broader range of chemical identification, providing complementary and confirmatory testing in a single, field-portable device. We previously wrote how U.S. airports are using spectroscopy instruments for incoming drugs.
While a properly equipped lab can make a definitive analysis of an unknown substance, typical lab equipment does not lend itself to use by law enforcement personnel in the field because it is either too heavy, cumbersome, difficult to operate, or too expensive to distribute widely to large numbers of law enforcement personnel.
Because the portable analyzer uses non-destructive analysis technique, it can precisely identify and analyze suspect substances ‘on the spot’ in seconds. The technology works even through packaging material such as plastic bags, so that the packages need not be opened, and law enforcement personnel don’t need to risk contact with dangerous substances such as potent synthetic drug compounds such as fentanyl, another high-risk trafficked drug.
The handheld analyzer’s nearly-instant analysis capability in the field enabled PDEA agents to arrest four suspects who were involved in other similar cases. In addition, the PDEA will also conduct purity testing to determine if other seized illegal drugs match confiscated drugs from other operations, helping agents establish connections and relationships between the traffickers involved.
To read more details about the PDEA drug bust, read the Case Study: Gemini Stars in Philippine Drug Bust