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Security Alert for U.S. Citizens: U.S. Embassy Bogota – Increase in Crimes Involving Use of Sedatives
June 9, 2023

Location:  Countrywide 

Event:  The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens that in the last year, the Embassy has seen an increase in reports of incidents involving the use of sedatives to drug and rob individuals.  Foreigners are routinely targeted through online dating applications or in bars and nightclubs.  The Embassy regularly receives reports of these types of incidents occurring in major cities, including Medellin, Cartagena, and Bogota.  Some of these incidents have resulted in victims dying or needing serious medical assistance as a result of an overdose from the drugs used to incapacitate the victim. 

One of the most popular methods to target unsuspecting individuals is through online dating applications.  Individuals match with dates and there is an agreement to meet.  This meeting can either initially start in a public place or at the residence/hotel of the victim.  Eventually, a sedative is introduced to the victim, leaving them disoriented and sedated so they are easily robbed.  These types of crimes are believed to be underreported as victims are embarrassed and do not want to follow through with the judicial process, especially if they are tourists.  

Historically in Colombia, a drug called scopolamine has been used to carry out these crimes.  Also known as Burundanga in Colombia, it is an odorless, tasteless, memory blocking substance used to incapacitate and rob unwary victims.  If ingested or exposed, scopolamine can render a victim unconscious up to 24 hours or more.  In large doses, it can cause respiratory failure and death.  It is most often administered in liquid, spray, or powder form in foods and beverages.  Other drugs used in Colombia include benzodiazepines that can render a person unconscious.  In one recent case, the assailant used zolpidem (brand name: Ambien), a non-benzodiazepine sedative used commonly to treat insomnia.  These types of drugs can cause extreme effects and leave the victims defenseless. 

The U.S. Department of State advises citizens to reconsider travel to Colombia due to crime, terrorism, and COVID-19 and to exercise increased caution in Colombia due to civil unrest and kidnapping.  The full Travel Advisory for Colombia can be found at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Colombia.html. 

Actions to Take:  

  • If you are in imminent danger, contact local authorities by dialing “123” from any Colombian telephone line.  
  • If you are the victim of a crime, visit https://co.usembassy.gov/victims-of-crime/ for information on how to the U.S. Embassy can assist you and how to report the crime to the Colombian authorities.  
  • If using dating applications in Colombia, before you go on a date, let someone know who you are meeting, where you are going, and the details of the dating application account you are communicating with.  Victims who are targeted on dating applications tend to have their electronic devices stolen which often contain all evidence of communication with the assailants. 
  • Avoid going to bars or nightclubs alone and leaving with strangers.
  • Do not leave food or drinks unattended. 
  • Do not accept food or drinks from strangers.
  • Seek medical attention if you believe you may have been drugged. 
  • Be vigilant and trust your instincts – if something does not feel right, don’t hesitate to walk away from a situation.