One of the most common ways of using the substance is to slip it into a drink. :: Á. C.
An attack on a businessman in Pedregalejo has increased suspicions that drugs are being used in different types of crime in Spain
She was in a night club. Two lads approached her and started a conversation. She had hardly had anything to drink but she began to feel unwell and they offered to take her outside into the street to get some air. After that, her memories are hazy. She remembers that there was a dark coloured Seat car, but little else. She woke up 12 hours later, lying beneath a bridge and wearing no trousers or underwear. She had been raped.
Despite the gaps in the girl’s story, it was consistent and there was no apparent motive for her to want to hide a sexual relationship. The police officers began to think she had been drugged, but analyses of blood and urine were negative. A month later, they tested a sample of her hair and this confirmed their suspicions: she had been given scopolamine, which is also known as the date rape drug.
This case, which occurred in Benalmádena, illustrates the type of sexual assault that is committed with the use of narcotics. The victims find themselves half-naked in an unknown place, disorientated and with disjointed memories. Their symptoms could be confused with drunkenness: lack of inhibition, amnesia, sedation and a hallucinogenic state.
Forensic doctor José Manuel Burgos, an expert in addiction at the Institute of Legal Medicine in Malaga, says that in at least 10 per cent of rape cases that are investigated there are “suspicions” that chemical submission drugs such as scopolamine have been used.
The problem is detecting them. On average, it is 20 hours before the victim reports the assault and by then the drug has disappeared from the body.
“That’s why we ask them to let us have a sample of their hair after 30 days - it grows about a centimetre a month - but most of the victims refuse to do that because they don’t want to have to relive what happened to them,” he explains.
In Spain, unlike in Latin America, there are hardly any registered cases of these substances being used in robbery cases.
In Malaga, there is a possible case involving a couple who were out for a walk in Pedregalejo. The victim, a 68-year-old businessman, suffered a strange attack and it is thought that some type of drug may have been used to subdue him.
“I could see, but I couldn’t pronounce a single word or even move a finger”, he says. “I realised that they were robbing me, but I couldn’t do anything about it.”
He told the police that two girls and a man had stopped beside them in a car and produced a map, asking him how to find somewhere.
They stole a Rolex worth 16,000 euros and his wallet. When he was at the police station he was told that he may have been drugged with burundanga.
“It was the first time I had heard the word,” he says.
But what is burundanga? And scopolamine? Are they the same thing?
Although used interchangeably, in reality this is a synecdoche which confuses a part of something with the whole.
Scopolamine is an alkaloid which is obtained from the flower of a tree which is closely related to the Datura genus and is known as ‘cacao sabanero’ or ‘borrachero’. It is a native of South America, where the use of this drug is much more extensive. According to a daily newspaper in Colombia, El Tiempo, scopolamine is involved in one in every five cases of patients admitted to hospital with poisoning and it is calculated that each day there are three new victims of this substance in the country.
Burundanga, however, is not a drug as such. It is a mixture of narcotics, which includes scopolamine, and is used by those who plan to commit a crime.
“The preparation of it is surrounded by a certain mystery. It is even associated with witchcraft, and it is always supposed to be prepared by women,” explains Julián Quintero, director of the Acción Técnica Social corporation in Colombia (ATS), which investigates this and other types of drugs.
In South America, it is habitually used to trap men who visit social clubs linked to prostitution, known as ‘amanecedros’, where the women tip burundanga into their drinks so they can rob them. Julián Quintero says that they also do what is known as ‘the millionaire’s walk’, which is when they force the victim to visit different automatic cash dispensers and withdraw money using his credit cards. In 2012 one group, ‘Las Tomaseras’, was uncovered by police and found to have stolen from 600 men.
On banknotes or maps
It is not necessary to add this substance to a drink to force somebody into submission. Just breathing it in is enough.
Powdered scopolamine or the mixture of drugs known as burundanga can be sprinkled over any solid item, such as chewing gum or sweets but also banknotes, newspapers or maps. All that is needed is to shake it in front of the victim for him or her to suffer its effects.
José Manuel Burgos says that the symptoms of the victims of the theft in Pedregalejo are “perfectly compatible” with intoxication from this substance because a small dose, administered by inhalation, “can cause a brief effect without physical-pathological alternation, with a loss of ability but not of consciousness”.
The question is: why is only the victim affected and not the person who is handling the drug? Experts say there is no ‘antidote’, nor is there anything extraordinary about this. The criminal avoids any contact with the substance and when he or she administers it, they make sure there is no chance of it being blown towards them by the wind.
Claudio Vidal, the delegate in Andalucía of the Wellbeing and Development Association, is sceptical and believes Spain has exaggerated the phenomenon of burundanga. In cases of submission in this country, “alcohol is the predominant substance, sometimes mixed with medicines or benzodiazepine” he says.
However, experts agree that more investigation is needed. “We need to be much more alert about this, because there could be many more cases which have not been reported,” says José Manuel Burgos.