Paraguayan authorities have dismantled a network of pharmacies that illegally sold morphine and fentanyl, showing how the black market for drugs now includes powerful opioids for illicit use.
Raids of three pharmacies in the capital, Asunción, according to a July 7 press release, led to the arrest of four people who have been accused of distributing controlled substances. The drugs, which also included strong sedatives, were sold on forged prescriptions. A total of 51 boxes of tramadol, 17 boxes of fentanyl and 400 vials of morphine were seized.
According to the government’s press release, some vials of fentanyl were labeled “Exclusive Use of IPS,” the Spanish acronym for the country’s Social Security Institute (Instituto de Previsión Social), suggesting that possible participation people within the agency.
SEE ALSO: Paraguay grapples with ever-changing crime and persistent corruption
María Antonieta Gamarra, director of Paraguay’s National Health Surveillance Directorate (Dirección Nacional de Vigilancia Sanitaria), said the drugs were sold cheapbetween $1.50 and $3.00 per dose.
In November 2021another operation targeting Paraguayan pharmacies selling opioids illegally took place when agents from the National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas – Senad) raided a warehouse in Asunción and a pharmacy in San Lorenzo after authorities found inconsistencies in monthly fentanyl sales reports.
Following the latest law enforcement action, drug prosecutor Lorena Ledesma expressed concern about the growing use of fentanyl in Paraguay, despite the laws controlling the sale of opioids, Paraguayan newspaper Hoy reported.
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Paraguayan pharmacies have long been implicated in the drug black market, but their trafficking in opioids is an alarming new development.
The diversion of drugs from pharmacies in Paraguay has been happening for more than a decade. In 2007, the president of the Paraguayan Chamber of Pharmacies (CAFAPAR), Dr. Beatriz Svetliza, told the Paraguayan newspaper ABC that there was a robust black market for drugs sold in pharmacies and that regulatory agencies had no control over the situation.
Yet most of the black market sales were for pharmaceuticals sold to people who struggled to access medical care. For example, in 2018, the Paraguayan Ministry of Health faces criticism pharmacies for to forbid the sale of antibiotics without a prescription. CAFAPAR officials claimed the measure would only encourage illegal sales, as Paraguayans without easy access to doctors and hospitals would turn to the black market for their medication.
SEE ALSO: Fentanyl coverage
In the case of the most recent raids, the narcotics sold illegally by pharmacies were presumably not for medical purposes, since vials of fentanyl and morphine are usually administered under the strict supervision of a doctor.
The effects of fentanyl are similar to heroin, but 50 times more potent. In the United States, fentanyl is the leading cause of overdose deaths, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Dealers can be mix other drugs like cocaine and heroin with fentanyl, which is cheap and provides a strong high, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ricardo Galeano Chena, director of Senad’s forensic laboratory, expressed concern that fentanyl is being used to enhance or reduce more common recreational drugs. “We don’t want a collapse similar to what happened last year in Argentinawhere a precursor to fentanyl mixed with cocaine caused the death of 24 people,” he said. Explain.
Indeed, the most recent operations involving sales of fentanyl in pharmacies underscore that the synthetic has begun to enter the illicit drug market in Paraguay.
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