Bootleg Botox: The next terrorist tool?
Officials worry that this easily acquired toxin will become a biological weapon.
Mon, Jan 25, 2010 at 06:51 PM
Women and men across the globe are waging an unnatural war against wrinkles using the toxin Botox-A. But new evidence shows this bonfire of vanities could literally explode into something more catastrophic. The Washington Post recently revealed the link between the immensely popular injectable and a possible “end of days” strike by terrorists.
An easily accessible “faux-tox” first appeared on the market with the appearance of a cosmetics trader named Rakhman in Russia. The Post reports that Rakhman began showing up at salons in St. Petersburg bearing the popular anti-aging drug at extremely low prices. He claimed to have obtained the drug from a factory in Chechnya that makes raw botulinum toxin. A speck of this toxin can kill a 150-pound adult.
Officials tried to close in on Rakhman to find the source of this illegal fake Botox, but the shifty trader quickly disappeared. Officials were never able to pinpoint exactly where he had obtained the illegal wares. But security experts believe there are several illegal labs in existence because the black market has surged in response to this drug. Rakhman’s case shows how an illegal network of fake Botox suppliers can operate unseen with potentially disastrous results.
Kenneth Coleman is a biodefense expert. Last year, Dr. Coleman and fellow researcher Raymond Zilinskas tested the likelihood of militant groups using the extensive counterfeit Botox network to obtain materials for a bioterrorism attack. Their findings were extremely disturbing. As The Post reports, Coleman and Zilinskas found that a biologist with a master's degree and $2,000 worth of equipment could easily make a gram of pure toxin. This small amount could kill thousands of people.
Commercial Botox or Botox-A is an extremely weakened form of the toxin. Its high cost and low dosage make it of little interest to terrorist groups. However, its pure form is the most toxic material known to exist and it has long been explored as a biological weapon. Japanese doomsday cults and al-Qaeda have experimented and advocated its use. As Dr. Coleman points out, "It's not that hard to acquire the bacterial strains. But (now) you don't even have to make it.” Dr. Coleman further notes that because of the widespread access to fake Botox, “you can buy it in sufficient quantity to cause widespread harm."
Consumers in the United States alone spent $337 million on Botox in 2009, and some estimate that sales were down because of the bad economy. Women in Russia, China and the United States have fallen for promises of cheaper treatments and the unregulated market for this drug is thriving. As one U.S. investigator puts it, “the fact that one of the hottest commodities happens to be a lethal poison elevates the (terrorist) risk to a whole new level.”
For further reading: Scientists feel toxic ingredient in Botox could become terrorist tool.
MNN homepage photo: DomenicoGelermo/iStockphoto
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