Burundanga – Another Predatory Drug


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I recently received a warning about another predatory, or date rape, drug.

It was the account of a woman who was approached at a gas station by a man offering his painting services. She took his business card, got into her car and left the station. She states that the painter and a second man followed her.

She states that she immediately began to feel dizzy, could not catch her breath, and noticed a strong odor in the car. She apparently went a neighbor’s home and honked her horn for help – at which time she says the men following her drove away.

She noticed a substance on the business card.  Later, she went online and found that a drug called “burundanga” can be used to incapacitate victims after being absorbed through the skin.

This warning email was accompanied by a link to an article written by Stephen Pittel, PhD, a forensic expert and consultant’s site.

Doctor Pittel indeed describes Burundanga as “a potent form of scopalamine that has been used for decades in Columbia in native rituals, as a weapon and by criminals who prey on tourists.”

Doctors most commonly use scopolamine to treat nausea and motion sickness and often with a transdermal patch. Scopolamine can cause dizziness, drowsiness, and blurred vision even in lower doses.  In higher doses, it can cause delirium, unconsciousness and memory loss – three reasons it has been used as a predatory drug.  As with many substances, alcohol has a compounding effect!

Some authors state that in recent years, fifty percent of emergency room admission for poisoning in Columbia are due to overdoses of this agent.

Pitell and others note that the State Department has issued warnings to those traveling to South American countries to be aware of this potential threat, given the number of tourists who have been robbed after unknowingly ingesting burundanga.

Although this substance is absorbed through the skin, most sources seem to question if one can absorb a large enough dose transdermally from touching a card or travel brochure. The bigger threat is a large dose being put into a drink.

Whether or not the account of the tainted business card is accurate, and whether or not one can absorb enough of a transdermal agent to become incapacitated, is not the real issue.

  • This should remind us that we need to be cognizant of those around us any time we are out in public, and especially when at parties or functions. Any number of substances can be slipped into any beverage, or food for that matter, anywhere and at any time.

My recent blog entry recounts the tragic story of a couple who were robbed after being drugged by someone they befriended at a coffee shop while traveling in Europe.

Substances commonly used as predatory drugs  in the United States include Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine. Even if you open your own sealed bottle of water or can of soda when out in public, be aware that these compounds can be mixed into the ice cubes that a “considerate” person may offer you!

Always watch your drink being prepared, even if it is a latte on a sunny day. Be wary of someone who prepares your drink below bar top level and out of sight. Also be wary of anyone who wants to keep pouring you alcoholic beverages at a party!  Remember, the most commonly used substance for predatory purposes, especially date or acquaintance rape, is alcohol!

Oftentimes a “cocktail” of different substances may be used to incapacitate the victim.

Opioid analgesics such as Oxycontin and hydrocodone, are anti-anxiety medications and muscle relaxants.  Although they are effective pain medications when used appropriately, they are quite dangerous when abused or combined.  Alcohol combined with these medications can result in death, as the victim gradually loses their urge to breathe, also knows as respiratory depression.

Obviously avoiding predatory drugs is paramount. If you are in a public setting or attending a function and do start to suddenly feel sleepy, disoriented and “out of it,” especially accompanied by loss of motor control, it is best to assume you have ingested a harmful agent and seek medical attention immediately.

Waiting to “see if I feel better” only robs you of precious time, time doctors will need to help you!

The most important thing to remember is to keep distance between yourself and strangers. You should always be wary of a stranger closing distance on you regardless of the stated reason, and especially when in an isolated environment! If you are followed, drive to a busy, well-lit area – or even a police or fire station – but not home, to a friend’s house, your place of work, or any location where your children will be.

  • Predatory Drugs are also addressed in our Travel Safety Training.
  • Please visit the Resources area of our site for more information on these and other topics
Related: 

What is Situational Awareness ?

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  1. #1 by Baron Samedi on May 26, 2010 - 9:50 am

    This is a hoax. Here is the snopes article.
    http://www.snopes.com/crime/warnings/burundanga.asp

    The drug is real but has not seen use in the US that anyone can prove. There are plenty of real date-rape drugs out there, such as Rohypnol, Ketamine etc.

  2. #2 by Larry Kaminer on May 26, 2010 - 6:36 pm

    Indeed a hoax. Thanks for posting the link to Snopes too Baron!!

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