The production of synthetic drugs continues to explode in Asia. According to the UN, organized crime is taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic and political instability in Burma to boost its gains.
Thus, more than a billion methamphetamine pills, or 172 tons, were seized in 2021 in East and Southeast Asia, a record, according to preliminary data from the United Nations Office on Drugs. and crime (UNODC). Seizures were seven times lower ten years ago. “The scale and scope of the trade (…) is staggering,” Jeremy Douglas, UNODC regional representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement on Monday.
Historically low prices
The “Golden Triangle”, on the borders of Burma, Laos and Thailand, has for decades been the focal point of drug production in the region. And, since the health crisis and the 2021 coup in Burma against Aung San Suu Kyi, criminal organizations “have all the ingredients they need to continue to develop their activity”, notes Jeremy Douglas.
With plenty of supply, wholesale and retail prices have fallen to historic lows in countries like Thailand and Malaysia. The drug “has become much more accessible to those who could not afford it before”, notes Kavinvadee Suppapongtevasakul, regional analyst at UNODC, stressing that “the social consequences of increased consumption are significant”.
Many affected countries
From the clandestine laboratories reclusive in the jungle of the Shan State, in the east of Burma, the Burmese, Hong Kong or Macao criminal groups thus transport the goods to Thailand, Laos or Malaysia. They then water Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
Methamphetamine is in principle consumed in two forms: either in crystals or via tablets which are generally less pure. ONDUC notes a slight decline in crystal methamphetamine seizures, with 79 tonnes in 2021 compared to 82 two years ago. However, the increase remains spectacular over the last decade: less than ten tonnes were seized in 2011.