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1B pills seized: East, Southeast Asia hit ominous drug peak

BANGKOK (AP) – The number of methamphetamine tablets seized in East and Southeast Asia exceeded a billion last year for the first time, highlighting the scale of illegal drug production and trafficking in the region and the challenges of fighting it, the United Nations (UN) said yesterday.

The 1.008 billion tablets – which would weigh about 91 tonnes altogether – were part of a regionwide haul of almost 172 tonnes of methamphetamine in all forms, and was seven times higher than the amount seized 10 years earlier, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said in a report.

“I think the region is literally swimming in methamphetamine,” said Southeast Asia regional representative for the UN agency Jeremy Douglas, at a news conference in the Thai capital Bangkok unveiling the report on Synthetic Drugs in East and Southeast Asia.

“So there’s going to have to be a radical policy shift by East Asia to address this problem or it’s just going to continue to grow,” Douglas said.

The drugs are largely consumed in Southeast Asia but also exported to New Zealand and Australia, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan in East Asia, and increasingly to South Asia.

Packages of methamphetamines displayed during a press conference at the Narcotics Suppression Bureau in Thailand. PHOTO: AP
Smokes and flames billow from burning narcotic drugs during a destruction ceremony of seized narcotic drugs in the outskirts of Myanmar. PHOTO: AP

“Production and trafficking of methamphetamine jumped yet again as supply became super concentrated in the Mekong (River region) and in particular Thailand, Laos and Myanmar,” Douglas told The Associated Press in an email.

The increased production makes the drug cheaper and more accessible, creating greater risk to people and their communities, the report said.

According to Douglas, when he first worked in the region in 2002-2007, a meth tablet cost five to six times what it costs now.

Methamphetamine is easy to make and has supplanted opium and its derivative heroin to become the dominant illegal drug in Southeast Asia for both use and export.

The Golden Triangle area, where the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet, was historically a major production area for opium and hosted many of the labs that converted it to heroin. Decades of political instability have made Myanmar’s frontier regions largely lawless, to be exploited by drug producers and traffickers.

Douglas said at yesterday’s news conference that there is a fundamental need to refocus law enforcement efforts against the drug trade. “There’s lots and lots of seizures being made and no impact being made on the business itself. Organised crime just keep cranking out the volume, replacing seizures with more product,” Douglas said.

“The chemical situation is highly complex and there’s no essential chemicals being seized and they just continue to flow unabated, primarily through Laos into (Myanmar’s) Shan State,” Douglas added. “We also have huge money laundering operations at play in the region. We have no attempt fundamentally at the end of the day to address demand which is seemingly growing and can continue to grow because of the price point of the drug is so cheap.”

Given the problem of limited governance and low attention to the issue, the UN agency said organised crime syndicates have the means to continue to produce more meth and to sell it to a growing population of young people with increased spending power.