Asia Gets High on Meth

Drug use, once a malady thought unique to the decadent west, is increasingly ravaging Asia, particularly with methamphetamine use rising to record levels in most countries, according to a report released today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC).

The sum and substance of the annual report adds up to the conclusion that Asia isn’t going to have any better luck stamping out drug use than the western powers did. It is a question whether Asian governments are going to follow the west, particularly the United States, into more punitive measures and longer jail terms, which have been proven definitively not to work, or build education and treatment programs for users. The record so far isn’t encouraging.

Officials said they had seized 227 million meth pills along with 11.6 tonnes of crystal methamphetamine in the region, according to the report, Patterns and Trends of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants and Other Drugs – Challenges for Asia and the Pacific 2013. Methamphetamine is now the first or second most-used illegal drug in 15 of the 15 countries surveyed in the report.

Unfortunately, as the region increasingly integrates to facilitate the free flow of goods, services, investment, capital and labor, transnational organized crime is exploiting this integration to expand trafficking activities across the region, the report says. That, means that the illicit trafficking of drugs and other contraband “will continue to pose a significant threat to security, good governance, human rights and sustainable development” in the region.

Amphetamine-style drugs have ranked at the top of the list in all countries since 2009, increasing in Cambodia, China, Japan, Laotian, Myanmar, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam, analysts say. Although meth pills continue to rise, crystalline methamphetamine use has rapidly become more prevalent throughout the region. Methamphetamine use, primarily in powder form, appears to be on the decline in Australia and New Zealand.

Meth manufacturer has fallen slightly, according to the report, but continues high. Authorities dismantled 385 illicit synthetic drug manufacturing facilities in the region, most of them manufacturing methamphetamines. Large quantities continued to be illegally manufactured in China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar the Philippines and Cambodia, as well as in Australia and New Zealand. Pill pressing operations and small-scale crystalline methamphetamine manufacture facilities continued to be seized in Thailand and there were indications that large-scale clandestine methamphetamine manufacture is taking place in Vietnam.

Record level seizures were reported in a number of countries. Crystalline methamphetamine seizures increased significantly in Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, Brunei Darussalam and Hong Kong.

The ecstasy market, which had declined over the past few years, has also resurged in both East and Southeast Asia, with, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Thailand and Viet Nam reported increasing ecstasy use. The number of pills seized in the region more than tripled, to more than 5.4 million pills, from about 1.6 million seized in 2011. This is the highest total reported since 2007. Many of the seized drugs sold as ecstasy on the street contain psychoactive substances other than MDMA.

New psychoactive substances are also coming onto the market. “In addition to the growing number of substances such as synthetic cathinones, ketamine, piperazines, and phenethylamines, sold pills purported to be ‘ecstasy’, ketamine and kratom continue to be used throughout the region,” the report noted. These new substances have been found in ecstasy pills or preparations in Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam and ketamine has been reported in all but one country – Laos – in the region.

While the use of most of these substances is not as widespread as the use of traditional illicit drugs, data available on seizures, use and forensic analysis suggest increasing availability of these NPS.

Investigators found that transnational organized criminal activities in the region’s illicit drug trade continued to diversify, with trafficking syndicates from Africa and the Islamic Republic of Iran continuing to traffic methamphetamine and other drugs into East and Southeast Asia. The most common destinations for methamphetamine trafficked from or through Africa, primarily by air passenger couriers, appear to be Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and Viet Nam. Drug trafficking groups, mostly from Iran, continue to traffic methamphetamine to various countries in the region by air transportation.

However, there is some indication that traffickers were switching to sea cargo containers, with significant seizures in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Indian drug trafficking networks continue to play a role in smuggling precursor chemicals to methamphetamine manufacturing locations in East and Southeast Asia.

Demand for drug treatment related to methamphetamine remains high in East and Southeast Asia, the report notes. Amphetamines were the primary drugs of use for a large majority of persons who received drug treatment in 2012. However, a large number of arrested drug users continue to be sent to compulsory drug treatment facilities, most of which do not provide amphetamine-specific treatment services.

Illicit manufacture and trafficking are increasingly spreading to the neighboring regions of South Asia and the Pacific Island States and Territories, according to the report. International drug trafficking groups have sought to use South Asia as a major base, given the high availability of precursor chemicals used for manufacturing illicit synthetic drugs, as well as technical expertise on ATS manufacturing.

Transnational organized criminal groups continue to use the Pacific region as a transit point for trafficking methamphetamine and precursor chemicals to and from Asia. However, the lack of quality data and information related to drug trafficking and drug use continues to impede the development of an effective evidence-based response in these two regions.