I’m regularly asked about potential scams that can affect tourists to Medellin and Colombia. I always respond the same, that common street crime (pickpockets, robberies) are the greatest threat to the average visitor.
But, there’s another more insidious danger called Scopolamine, known colloquially as the “Devil’s Breath.”
While Colombia’s unfortunate reputation is built on cocaine, by and large that’s a recreational drug. If you’re a tourist who doesn’t do it, then you needn’t worry about it getting into your system.
That’s not the case with scopolamine. This odorless, tasteless drug derived from an abundant plant is similar in some ways to Rohypnol, also know as “roofies” or the “date rape drug.”
Thieves and prostitutes in Colombia use it to drug their victims, most often for the purpose of robbery, but sexual assault is also a possibility.
Because the drug, when given at the proper dosage, allows the person to remain conscious and talking, it’s possible for the thieves to effectively kidnap the victim, and have him/her empty out their ATM accounts, and/or home of valuables.
The next day, the victim may not remember anything of the encounter, which means any official incident statistics are A LOT lower than actual cases.
A US Department of State report from March 4, 2011 states the following:
One common and particularly dangerous method that criminals use in order to rob a victim is through the use of a variety of drugs. The most common has been the drug Scopolamine.
Unofficial estimates indicate there are approximately 50,000 Scopolamine incidents in Colombia per year. Scopolamine can render a victim unconscious for 24 hours or more. In large doses, it can cause respiratory failure and even death.
It is most often administered in liquid or powder form in foods and beverages, however, in powder form, it can also be blown into a target’s face. The majority of these incidents occur in night clubs and bars, and usually men, perceived to be wealthy, are targeted by young, attractive women.
To avoid becoming a victim of Scopolamine, one should never accept food or beverages offered by strangers or new acquaintances or leave food or beverages unattended. Victims of Scopolamine or other drugs should seek immediate medical attention.
The video above, released by Vice in 2008, brought the danger of scopolamine to light.
In Colombia, based on what I’ve read, its use is more common in Bogotá than Medellin or other parts of the country. People traveling or living in Bogotá need to exercise extra caution, but I suggest we all stay aware.
I personally know of one person who I believe was drugged with scopolamine in Medellin, and suspect another friend experienced the same in a different city.
Unfortunately, unless you go straight to the hospital, and get toxicology reports, I don’t know that there’s a definitive way to prove scopolamine was used, but the hallmark effects are the same.
Waking up the next day, unaware of what happened to you. You have probably been robbed of your valuables, either on your person, and/or at the place you’re staying. If not, you may have been lucky. The dose might not have been strong enough, or you potentially escaped your captors.
Do you suspect you or someone you know has been affected by scopolamine?
If so, please share your story below. In this instance, it’s OK to use a fake name, or comment anonymously.