BANGKOK ( Associated Press) — The number of methamphetamine pills seized in East and Southeast Asia exceeded one billion for the first time last year, an indication of the scale of illegal drug production and trafficking in the region and the challenge what it means to combat it, the United Nations said on Monday.
The 1,008 million pills were part of the almost 172 tons of methamphetamine seized in all its forms and were seven times more than what was seized 10 years earlier, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said in a report.
The drugs are consumed primarily in Southeast Asia, but are also exported to New Zealand and Australia, Hong Kong, the Korean Peninsula and Japan in East Asia, and increasingly to South Asia.
“Meth production and trafficking spiked again as supply became super-concentrated in the Mekong (River region) and in particular Thailand, Laos and Myanmar,” said Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia regional representative for the United Nations agency, in an email interview with The Associated Press.
The increased production makes the drug cheaper and more accessible, which creates a greater risk for people and their communities, the report said.
Methamphetamine is easy to manufacture and has supplanted opium and heroin, an opium derivative, to become the predominant drug in Southeast Asia both in terms of consumption and export.
The Golden Triangle area, where the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet, was traditionally a major opium-producing region and home to many of the laboratories that converted it into heroin. Decades of political instability have left Myanmar’s border regions in anarchy, something that drug producers and traffickers have taken advantage of.
Given the problem of limited governance and little attention on the issue, the UN agency said organized crime groups have the means to continue producing methamphetamine and selling it to a young and growing population with growing spending power.
The political landscape has also helped traffickers.
In Myanmar, the army seized power from an elected government last year and is now engaged in an armed struggle against opponents of military rule. Drug production in Myanmar is often associated with armed groups of ethnic minorities who sometimes fight the government or each other.
“All groups deny involvement in drug production and trafficking and hold other groups responsible, but the drug economy is arguably the largest part of the economy in most or many parts of the Shan and areas. borders of Myanmar, and there is a lot of information linking groups to labs and shipments,” Douglas said.
The report also described Laos as one of the countries most affected by methamphetamine coming out of Myanmar. One of the largest drug seizures in Asian history was made in Laos last October, when police seized more than 55.6 million methamphetamine pills in a single raid. They also seized 65 bags of crystal methamphetamine crystal, also known as ice, according to state media.
The United Nations agency said it was concerned that criminal networks were targeting Cambodia as a drug production hub. An industrial-scale clandestine laboratory to produce ketamine and capacity for other drugs was dismantled there last year, according to the report.
Ketamine is used legally as an anesthetic, but its non-medical use and clandestine production are of concern to the UN agency.
Many countries tried to stop production by controlling supplies of materials such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, known for their use in decongestant medications. But the United Nations agency pointed out that clearly some methamphetamine producers have learned to make these materials from uncontrolled substances that can be purchased freely and legally.