Guatemala has banned a common ingredient in over-the-counter cold medicine to crack down on clandestine labs using it to make illegal drugs like ecstasy and methamphetamine, the country's vice president said on Wednesday.
The substance, pseudoephedrine, can be mixed with other chemicals to make a powerful addictive stimulant that has grown into a major drug problem in the United States.
Under the ban, pharmacies with stocks of cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine have until April 15 to sell them legally before the supply is confiscated and burned.
Authorities this week detained a boat carrying 20 million cold medicine pills and a planeload of another 5 million pills, both sent from Colombia.
Drug producers sometimes mix pseudoephedrine into ecstasy pills to give them a cheap kick.
Guatemala is being increasingly sucked into the drug trade centered in neighboring Mexico.
Last week police found 20 homemade laboratories producing methamphetamine in garages and houses in Guatemala City, Vice President Rafael Espada told Reuters in an interview.
"I imagine they are producing thousands of pills a day, both for local use and for exportation," Espada said of the drug syndicates working in his country.
Guatemala is a major transshipment point for South American cocaine on its way to the United States. Mexican gangs operate with local partners to smuggle the drugs over the porous Mexico-Guatemala border.
Marijuana and poppies used to make heroin have long been grown illegally in Guatemala's mountainous northern region but methamphetamine manufacturing is relatively new to the country, Espada said.
The pseudoephedrine crackdown is latest step in an anti-drug campaign by President Alvaro Colom. Last week security forces torched 1,700 acres of fields growing marijuana and heroin poppies in the country's biggest ever drug sweep.
Mexican cartels are the largest producer of methamphetamine for the U.S. market, processing huge amounts of the drug in secret labs. The Mexican government took similar steps to ban pseudoephedrine several years ago, but the ban failed to halt production or trafficking in methamphetamine.
By Sarah Grainger
Thursday, February 12, 2009
The Portland Tribute