Dateline Bogota, ColombiaIf you thought cocaine was bad news, wait until you hear about Burandanga. Burundanga is a kind of voodoo powder obtained from a Colombian local plant of the nightshade family, a shrub called barrachera, or "drunken binge". Used for hundreds of years by Natie Americans in religious ceremonies, the powder when ingested causes victims to lose their will and memory, sometimes for days. (This drug is also known as Nightshade or "CIA drugs). When refined the powder yields scopolamine, a well-know drug with legitimate uses as a sedative and to combat motion sickness. (Mengele of Nazi fame also had and experimented with scopolamine as a truth serum). But in Colombia, the drug's most avid fans are street criminals. Crooks mix the powder with sedatives and feed the Burundanga cocktail to unsuspecting victims whom they then proceed to rob - or worse. Doctors here estimate that Colombian hustlers slip the odorless, colorless and soluble Burundanga (pronounced boor-oon-DAN-ga) in food or drink to about 500 unwitting victims in the city each month. About half of the city's total emergency room admissions for poison are Burundanga victims. "It is a very serious problem," says Fernando Botero, Colombia's defense minister. Adds Camilo Uribe, the doctor who runs the city's formost toxicology clinic and who is in charge of toxicology for all of Bogota's public hospitals. "It's epidemic". It seems that everyone in Bogota knows someone who has been victimized by the drug, Burundanguiado, as the say in Spanish. In one common scenario, a person will be offered a soda or drink laced with the substance. The next the person remembers is waking up miles away, extremely groggy and with no memory of what happened. People soon discover that they have handed over jewelry, money, car keys, and sometimes have even made multiple bank with- drawals for the benefit of their assailants. Because Burundanga is often given at seedy bars or houses of prostitution, many victims are reluctant to come forward. "The victim can't say no; he has no will and becomes very open to suggestion. It's like CHEMICAL HYPNOTISM," says Dr. Uribe. "From the moment it's given, the victim remembers absolutely nothing of what happened." He adds, "From a criminal point of view, it's got a lot of advantages". Architect David Neneses says he was Burundanguiado twice in one week last December. Mr. Meneses' first encounter with Burundanga took place on a Friday night when he stopped at a pharmacy to buy antacid. Two well-dressed men approached hes car. Teh last thing Mr. Menses remembers is one of the men unwrapping a piece of candy. "I woke up the next day at noon at my house." he says. He had no memory of how he got there, though the doorman in his building told Mr. Menseses he saw him com in at 7 a.m. looking nervous and confused. On Monday, Mr. Meneses checked with his bank, where he was told that his ATM card made 13 withdrawals for a total of about $700 on that lost Friday night. Concerned that he might have unwittingly been involved in criminal activity, or that his car had been used, Mr. Meneses went to the local prosecutors office where he made a sworn statement saying he wasn't respon- sible for anything that had happened during the hours he was under the influence of the drug. Three days later, the luckless Mr. Meneses noticed that he had a flat tire. Two men on the street approached him and offered to change it. "I remember they gave me something to drink, which I can't imagine why I drank." he says. Police found him asleep in his car six hours later. He had been robbed of his radio and about $125. These days, Mr. Meneses is careful to drive with the windows rolled up. He doesn't venture out much at night anymore. "Burundanga is a very dangerous weapon in the hands of the underworld" he says. Not all cases of Burundanga involve theft or robbery. Sometimes victims have been used as mules to carry cocaine, says Dr. Uribe's brother Manuel, a neurologist practicing at the clinic. In one incident, says Manuel Uribe, a well-known Colombian diplomat disappered shortly after leaving a function in Bogota, only to reappear in Chile under arrest for cocaine smuggling. Medical tests showed he had been under the influence of Burundanga, and no charges were filed. Camilo Uribe said that in a minority of cases Burundanga is used to lure young women who are then abused sexually. When they are found days later, they have no memory of what has happened to them. "You see that a lot with university coeds." he says. Camilo Uribe is often called by companies and embassies to talk about the perils of Burundanga. One diplomatic mission that takes the problem very seriously is the U.S. Embassy. Its orientation manual warns freshman diplomats never to visit bars or nightclubs alone. "Druggings in group situations are far less common" the manual says, adding that food and drinks should never be left unattended. At the Colombian unit of Dow Chemical Co. (now there's an organization that knows about drugs!) security officials periodically tell employees how to avoid getting Burundanguiado "There have been many cases." says Oswaldo Parra, the company's legal officer. "It's a very common practice in Colombia." Curiosly, just next door in Ecuador, where the plant is grown commercially for medical purposes, its criminal use is unknown. Instead, the plant is the subject of poetry and myth. If one sleeps under the plant in Ecuador, he will be able to tell the future, legends say. Here, however, Pedro Gomez Silva, a forensic chemical expert, tells police cadets that for fear of Burundanga, Colombians shouldn't accept food, drinks or cigarettes from strangers, nor buy them from street vendors. What's more, to be on the safe side, Colombians shouldn't help when asked for directions or the time of day. And forget sidewalk romances. The way things go with Burundanga, flirting with a stranger could lead to a really lost weekend. End article. NOTE. THIS SUBSTANCE CAN BE GIVEN BY LIQUID, CIGARETTE OR INHALANT. IT IS TASTELESS AND ODERLESS AND CAN GIVEN WITH A DRUG THAT MAKES THE VICTIM TEMPORARILY BLIIND. THE VICTIM UNDER THIS DRUG, WITH AN EXPERIENCED OPERATOR, WILL TELL THE TRUTH TO ANY QUESTION ASKED. THE VICTIM MAY HAVE NO MEMORY OF THE EVENT, OR MAY REMEMBER THE EVENT AS A DREAM. MEMORIES OF EVENTS WHILE ON THIS DRUG MAY COME INTO CONCIOUSNESS MANY YEARS LATER. THE CIA/FBI/NSA AND MOST POLICE DEPARTMENTS KNOW ABOUT THESE DRUGS. THIS DRUG IS USED BY SECURITY FORCES TO "MAKE PEOPLE FORGET" OTHER EVENTS. VICTIMS OF THIS DRUG OFTEN REPORT DISTORTED VISION, ESPECIALLY THINGS BEING MADE WIDE AND SMALL, OR THE GIVER'S HEAD STARTING TO STRETCH.