Narcos Mumbai: What is black cocaine recently seized by the narcotics bureau?

Around 3.2 kg of high-grade black cocaine was seized from a Bolivian woman at the Mumbai international airport. The substance is created by adding charcoal, metal or any other product to cocaine to make it undetectable and rid it of its characteristic smell

FP Explainers September 30, 2022 18:01:53 IST
Narcos Mumbai: What is black cocaine recently seized by the narcotics bureau?

The Narcotics Control Bureau seized 3.2 kg of black cocaine worth Rs 13 crore from a Bolivian woman at the Mumbai international airport on Wednesday. ANI

For those of us who’ve got our primer on drugs from Netflix’s Narcos, cocaine is a fine white or off-white powder. But there’s also something called black cocaine and it’s been recently seized by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).

In a major crackdown, the NCB confiscated 3.2 kg of high-grade black cocaine worth Rs 13 crore from a Bolivian woman at the Mumbai international airport on Wednesday. She was arrested with the contraband smuggled from Brazil along with a Nigerian national from Goa, who was to receive it.

According to the drug enforcement agency, the seizure of black cocaine is rare.

What is black cocaine?

Black cocaine is an illicit drug – it is nothing but cocaine mixed with other substances to change its colour. Regular cocaine base is mixed with substances such as charcoal so that its appearance changes.

Drug traffickers mix cocaine with a variety of things such as metal, moldings, asphalt and printer toner. Sometimes black cocaine contains activated carbon.

It is then trafficked as fertilizer, fingerprint powder, pigment, and charcoal, among other things.

Why is cocaine turned black?

By turning the drug black, it is easier for smugglers to disguise the substance and carry it across checkpoints and borders. Since it looks different and is rare, it is used as a tactic to hoodwink law enforcement agencies.

Mixing cocaine with substances neutralises its smell, which makes it more difficult to detect it at checkpoints. Even sniffer dogs employed by agents often are fooled by the masked smell.

Can black cocaine be used as is?

No. Once smuggled, black cocaine is again subjected to chemical treatment that extracts the cocaine hydrochloride or base.

Common organic solvents like methylene chloride or acetone are used for the extraction process. After this, the base is converted into powdered cocaine hydrochloride, according to a report in The Indian Express.

Regular cocaine is extracted from the leaves of the cocoa plant and then it goes through several chemical processes until it is converted back to white powder.

Where was black cocaine first made?

In May 1997, the Columbian police seized their first shipment of black cocaine which was bound for Italy from Bogota. Documented as bubble-jet printer cartridges, the containers could not be detected by police dogs. The drugs were uncovered only because police were already suspicious of the Colombian exporters.

According to a report in The Guardian, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet ordered the army to build a clandestine cocaine laboratory in Talagante, a rural town 24 miles from Santiago. There he had chemists mix cocaine with other chemicals to produce “black cocaine”, which could be smuggled past drug agents in the United States and Europe.

In April 1999, in a Senate testimony Barry R McCaffrey, then director of the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that American officials were “deeply concerned about the emergence of so-called black cocaine” that Colombian cartels have developed to evade detection by drug-sniffing dogs and chemical tests, according to a report in The Washington Post.

In an interview back then, McCaffrey had said that cartel chemists created the substance by adding compounds that turn cocaine hydrochloride into “black bricks” that are disguised as other products, shipped to their destinations and eventually converted back into cocaine.

In 2008, black cocaine was seized in Spain; it had been manufactured into rubber-like sheets and made into luggage. In June 2021, Spain police busted a ring that smuggled hundreds of kilos of black cocaine into Europe. It was disguised as charcoal and the cartels got rid of the peculiar cocaine smell, making it undetectable to sniffer dogs.

The modus operandi involved using a complex chemical process to camouflage the drugs as charcoal, a process that was carried out by the Mexican and Colombian cartels, according to officials, reports The Guardian.

How big is India’s cocaine problem?

Cocaine is one of the most expensive drugs and is often used by the affluent.

According to a September 2020 report by India Today, in our country 10.7 lakh people use cocaine. Most users are in Maharashtra (90,000), Punjab (27,000), Rajasthan (10,000) and Karnataka (8,000).

Data from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment estimated the number of opioid users in India at 23 million in 2018, a 600 per cent increase since 2004.

With inputs from agencies

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