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YEAR: 2015 | LENGTH: 1 part (44 minutes)  |  SOURCE: CBC

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They come in every colour of the rainbow. They are cheap, available, and make you feel like a kid again. Welcome to the world of designer drugs. They are entirely synthetic, extracted from industrial chemicals and everyday products like cold medicine. They mimic the highs of organic drugs but they don’t come from Mexico or Colombia. They are made in your own backyard. They are cooked in clandestine labs in farms, industrial buildings, or the house next door.

Deadly by Design is a one hour documentary that tells the story of how and why Canada has become the world’s third largest producer of illegal synthetic drugs of which ecstasy is the most popular. Its chemical name is methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA. But in 2011, this supposedly harmless drug was the cause of over 30 deaths in Western Canada. Victims began arriving in emergency rooms with extremely high body temperatures and irregular heartbeats. This was the largest cluster of drug related deaths ever seen in Canada. Something was terribly wrong. Why were these people dying?

In Deadly by Design we encounter the emergency room doctors, and the police on the beat who are trying to find the answers. We soon discover that most purchasers of ecstasy really have no idea what they are buying. They don’t know for sure what those little pills contain and they really have to trust their dealer. However, many times the dealers don’t even know what’s in them.

Deadly by Design goes underground to meet the alchemists who create these illegal synthetic drugs both ecstasy and crystal meth: the Cooks. We learn about their lives, why they do it and how they create them. We tag along on a bust of an average suburban home by the RCMP Clan Lab Response Team as they find a house full of chemicals and “cooking” equipment. Is this a Mom and Pop operation or part of a larger web of Organized Crime?

The RCMP as well as Canadian Border Security agents share their thoughts on the why and the how and the challenges they are confronted with on a daily basis. We also meet a dealer who provides an insider’s perspective on the nature of the business. An astounding 25% of the world’s illegal synthetic drug labs are found in Canada. In 2012, Canadian law enforcement officials seized on average an illegal lab every two weeks. How and where do the “cooks” get the raw materials and why is it easier to get these ingredients in Canada than elsewhere?

Canada seems to have all the right ingredients for cooks, traffickers and organized crime to produce illegal synthetic drugs. The ingredients enter the country and then the illegal drugs are manufactured and shipped to the international market place. In 2007, 65% of ecstasy seized in Japan came from Canada and over three quarters of Australia’s crystal meth was produced in Canadian labs. But its biggest market is just south of its border, the United States.

Deadly by Design reveals a world that is often impossible to penetrate and provides insights into a Canadian phenomenon that most people would respond with “Who knew?”.