Pink Cocaine: Is There Fentanyl In Mystery "Dirty Drug" From Colombia?
Also known as 'Tuci,' the "designer drug" has been spreading in Latin America and globally over the past decade. But it's looking more and more like a dirty mix concocted by Colombian dealers with potentially devastating effects, particularly if it contains the deadly opioid fentanyl.
Updated Sep. 11, 2023 at 2:30 p.m.
BUENOS AIRES—The "menu" of options, sent via WhatsApp, arrived like it always did, Josefina (not her real name) recalls. Only this time there was something that caught her eye besides the constantly increasing prices. "Tuci," it said.
Josefina's dealer was offering a new drug, one she'd never heard of before. And at 1,500 Argentine peso (46 euros) per gram, Tuci was the priciest of the lot. Surprised — and also curious — resent the list to a group of WhatsApp contacts. She wanted to see what her friends thought.
"Let's buy it. Come on, let's try it," one of them replied. "It can't be Tuci. It's too cheap," wrote another before adding: "You get 50 doses from one gram. It's nothing considering what the drug's really worth." That was the specialist opinion.
Tuci may be a new option in Argentina, but not elsewhere. In Europe it's known as the "cocaine of the rich," used by stars, models and politicians. In other countries the drug goes by the name 2C-B. It is a synthetic version of a mind-altering substance developed in the United States in 1974. Its developer, Alexander Shulgin, called it pink cocaine.
Other substances mixed in
As Tuci is known to be a heavily mixed substance, it has become easier for drug dealers to add in potentially more harmful substances to the mix. Last month in the Colombian city of Medellin, Dr. Jorge Alonso Marin, a toxicologist at the Soma clinic, reported two cases of intoxication due to the alleged consumption of fentanyl, present in Tuci.
A synthetic opioid, fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, it can be made pharmaceutically or illegally for recreative use. Thus adding it to Tuci would create a mixture of high-risk psychoactive substances.
At the beginning of August, the Colombian National Police reported seizing 300 doses of pharmaceutical fentanyl vials, the largest shipment found to date in the country. Calavera, a Tuci trafficker in Medellin, told Colombian newspaper El Espectador that he added the highly potent opioid to his preparation of Tuci.
To date, no entity specialized in drug analysis had reported the presence of fentanyl in Tuci. "We are aware that the penetration of this illegal market of mixtures of synthetic substances can put people at great risk," Colombia's Vice Minister of Justice, Camilo Umaña, told El Espectador. That is why we insist that the non-therapeutic consumption of opioids is discouraged due to the harmful impacts it can have".
In a report published by Échele Cabeza, on a project that provides information on risk and harm reduction when consuming psychoactive substances, done by the University of Caldas, 25 samples of Tuci and 56 samples of MDMA (also known as ecstasy) collected in Medellin and Bogota were analyzed. The studies showed that Tuci is mainly composed of caffeine, ketamine and MDMA. This makes the interaction between both stimulation and sedation one of the main effects of this substance mixture. No fentanyl was found in the samples analyzed.
One of the most important findings of the study was the presence of oxycodone in six samples (24%), a different type of substance not previously reported. After heroin and fentanyl, it is the third-ranked opioid responsible for the most overdose deaths in the United States.
Argentinian consumption on the rise
In Argentina, Tuci is consumed discreetly, and in exclusive circles. As far as Clarín could gather by taking to users, Tuci was initially linked to Colombian criminal elements, and consumed at electronic music clubs in the districts of Palermo and waterfront areas of Buenos Aires.
People who were high on the drug caught the attention of other club goers, who wanted to try it themselves. If the interested person was a regular on the nightclub circuit and trusted, a meeting was arranged the following week.
At that time a gram cost 1,000 pesos (31 euros), about three-and-a-half times the cost of standard cocaine. Today it goes for twice that, making it the most expensive drug on the market. Normally it's bought outside discotheques.
In Buenos Aires, Tuci is snorted, while in Colombia and Europe it is taken orally.
The word Tuci is short for tucibi (a phonetic spelling of 2C-B), which is also the alias (Alejandro Tucibí) of a drug pin known in Colombia as the "Pablo Escobar of synthetic drugs." He is said to have traveled to Europe in the decade after 2000, attracted by its electronic music bashes, and supposedly met two chemists there who introduced him to a drug they made for Colombians and the rich. He returned to Medellín with the recipe and began producing and selling the drug at electronic music parties.
The business spread to Cali and Bogota, and in time provoked a war between cartels seeking its formula. According to Semana, one of the crimes related to the fight over 2C-B was the 2012 killing, in Buenos Aires, of the Colombian paramilitary and drug-gang assassin Jairo Saldarriaga.
Tuci is reputedly under Colombian control in Buenos Aires. The drug is thought to arrive from Cali in western Colombia. But a Colombian NGO, Échele Cabeza, thinks the substance sold here is something else, that it may not really be 2C-B. "In 95% of cases they're fakes, adulterated substances, replacements and mixes of mind-turning substances that are very dangerous," the group told Clarín. "Most likely the mix includes Sildenafil (viagra) to increase stimulation. But that as raises the risk of tachycardia and heart attacks."
"People don't know how to take it"
Tomás Pérez Ponisio, a member of PAF!, a civil association that works on drug-related social problems, says he used Tuci just once, at a party in Mar del Plata. He was offered it twice more. "It must be available... because you can get anything in Argentina. But it's not widespread like other drugs. We have had very few experiences reported to our webpage, and considering how they tell us they consumed it and the price paid for it, it wouldn't be 2C-B."
It is a drug to be taken in small doses
In Buenos Aires, Tuci is snorted, while in Colombia and Europe it is taken orally. The doses also vary greatly. In Argentina users buy it by the gram, which in other countries can last for various nights or be shared among a group.
"It is a drug to be taken in small doses," says Carolina Ahumada of PAF! "We're not used to that in Argentina." She says that taking it like cocaine or other drugs could be a problem. "There is a lack of information," she adds. "People don't know how to take it. In any case the Tuci we find in Argentina seems to be at a knock-down price."
Tuci is also increasingly dangerous due to the fact that people do not often know what ingredients there are in it. Tuci does most often contain ketamine, MDMA and caffeine, but can also contain methamphetamines, fentanyl or even other unknown lethal substances.
A Colombian drug dealer currently jailed in Buenos Aires agreed to talk to Clarín. He admits he took Tuci in Bogota and says he found out about its arrival in Argentina while in jail. "Selling Tuci in Argentina is not good business for Colombians," he said. "Those who do it make us bring more than two kilograms per trip. Colombian drug dealers have never worked in small time dealing. This is only worth it if they stretch the drug with other products. There are people from my country who allow themselves the luxury of ordering some for their personal use, or ask relatives or friends traveling here to bring the odd 10 or 20 grams. Just to enjoy the "the original.""
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