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Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands Drug Threat Assessment
July 2003

Other Dangerous Drugs

Other dangerous drugs (ODDs) pose a low but increasing threat to Puerto Rico and the USVI. ODDs abused in Puerto Rico include the stimulant MDMA and diverted pharmaceuticals, including meperidines such as Demerol; oxycodones such as Percocet; hydromorphones such as Dilaudid; and benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax. MDMA commonly is abused at bars and nightclubs in San Juan. Young individuals, primarily upper-middle-class youth, are the primary abusers of MDMA in Puerto Rico. Dominican and Puerto Rican criminal groups recruit some of these young individuals as couriers to transport MDMA from Europe to Puerto Rico via the Dominican Republic aboard commercial aircraft. Young Puerto Rican men are the primary retail distributors of MDMA. There is little wholesale distribution of MDMA in Puerto Rico. The diversion and abuse of pharmaceutical drugs pose minor but continuing threats to Puerto Rico. In the USVI the distribution and abuse of MDMA, as well as the diversion and abuse of pharmaceutical drugs, are limited.



MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), also known as Adam, ecstasy, XTC, E, and X, is a stimulant and low-level hallucinogen. MDMA was patented in 1914 in Germany where it was given to psychiatric patients to assist in psychotherapy. This practice was never approved by the American Psychological Association or the Food and Drug Administration. Sometimes called the hug drug, abusers claim that the drug helps them to be more "in touch" with others and "opens channels of communication." However, abuse of the drug can cause psychological problems similar to those associated with methamphetamine and cocaine abuse including confusion, depression, sleeplessness, anxiety, and paranoia. The physical effects can include muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, blurred vision, and increased heart rate and blood pressure. MDMA abuse can also cause a marked increase in body temperature leading to muscle breakdown, kidney failure, cardiovascular system failure, stroke, or seizure as reported in some fatal cases. Research suggests MDMA abuse may result in long-term and sometimes permanent damage to parts of the brain that are critical to thought and memory.

MDMA primarily is abused by upper-middle-class youth in Puerto Rico, mainly in the San Juan area. Most of the MDMA consumed in Puerto Rico is produced in laboratories in Europe. MDMA most often is transported into and through Puerto Rico by couriers aboard commercial aircraft. Dominican and Puerto Rican criminal groups often recruit young couriers to transport MDMA to San Juan International Airport from Europe via the Dominican Republic. Most of the MDMA that reaches Puerto Rico is transshipped to the U.S. mainland. Limited quantities remain on the island for distribution in the San Juan area. CBP seizures of MDMA tablets at San Juan International Airport increased from zero in FY1999 to approximately 26,000 tablets in FY2000.

Some MDMA is transported into Puerto Rico in commercial maritime conveyances. From September 11 through 30, 2001, law enforcement officials seized a total of 96,000 MDMA tablets from ferries that transport passengers between San Juan and the Dominican Republic. Law enforcement officials believe that immediately following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, transporters temporarily shifted from smuggling MDMA aboard commercial aircraft to smuggling the drug via maritime conveyances. In 2001 CBP officials in Puerto Rico seized 30 kilograms of MDMA that were transported aboard commercial maritime vessels.

There is little wholesale distribution of MDMA in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican local independent dealers, usually young men, are the principal retail distributors of MDMA in Puerto Rico. The drug primarily is available at raves, private parties, and in bars and nightclubs in San Juan. MDMA generally sells for $25 to $40 per tablet at the retail level in Puerto Rico.

MDMA distribution and abuse in the USVI are limited but increasing. DEA reports that MDMA sells for $25 to $35 per tablet at the retail level in the USVI.

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Diverted Pharmaceuticals

Diverted pharmaceuticals pose a minor but continuing threat to Puerto Rico and the USVI. Pharmaceuticals that commonly are diverted in Puerto Rico include meperidines, such as Demerol; oxycodones, such as Percocet; hydromorphones, such as Dilaudid; and benzodiazepines, such as Valium and Xanax. In the USVI there is some limited diversion and abuse of Demerol, Percocet, and Tylenol with codeine.

The most common diversion methods used in Puerto Rico to illegally obtain pharmaceuticals include theft from pharmaceutical factories, fraudulent prescriptions, and "doctor shopping." Puerto Rico has the largest number of pharmaceutical manufacturers in the United States, and thefts from these factories are relatively common. Doctor shopping is a practice in which individuals who may or may not have a legitimate ailment visit numerous physicians to obtain drugs in excess of what should be prescribed.

Law enforcement officials indicate that Puerto Rican criminal groups and local independent dealers are the dominant wholesale and retail distributors of diverted pharmaceuticals. Individuals of various ages and socioeconomic backgrounds abuse pharmaceutical drugs in Puerto Rico; however, health authorities report that these drugs are more frequently abused by women than by men. Retail distributors of diverted pharmaceuticals typically sell the drugs to acquaintances and established customers and also abuse the drugs themselves. According to DEA, a 2-milligram tablet of Xanax sold for $5, and Percocet and Demerol tablets sold for $10 each in the second quarter of FY2002 in Puerto Rico. The primary diversion methods and prices for diverted pharmaceuticals in the USVI are not known but likely are similar to the methods and prices in Puerto Rico.


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