The United Nations on Friday sounded the alarm over record seizures of methamphetamine across much of Asia as the illegal drug floods streets and clubs.
Last year 227 million methamphetamine pills were seized in East and Southeast Asia — up 59 percent from the year before and a more than seven-fold increase compared with 2008, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said.
“If you look at the five year trends, since 2008 the seizures have increased pretty exponentially,” said UNODC regional analyst Shawn Kelley, who said data suggest the trend has continued into 2013.
He said the “huge spike” was due to increased efforts by law enforcement agencies as well as soaring production in Myanmar and an increase in the smuggling of drugs into Asia from other regions.
Seizures of potent crystal meth also increased, jumping 12-fold in Myanmar, 10-fold in Brunei, 91 percent in Hong Kong, 75 percent in both Indonesia and Cambodia, and 33 percent in Japan.
In its pill form, methamphetamine — known in Thailand as “yaba”, which means “crazy medicine” — is used both as a party drug and pick-me-up for those working long hours.
Between them China, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos seized 99 percent of all yaba in East and Southeast Asia, according to the UNODC report.
All countries showed significant increases on a year earlier, with Thai authorities netting 95.3 million pills — a 93 percent increase — while Chinese seizures rose 25 percent to 102.2 million and Myanmar’s more than tripled to 18.2 million.
Much of the methamphetamine seized in Thailand is thought to be produced in neighboring Myanmar.
Before the country began opening up to the world under a new reformist government in 2011, it was believed that rebels were increasing drug production to buy weapons amid tensions with the then-ruling junta.
“But now it’s still going on,” said Kelley, despite ceasefire deals between Myanmar’s new quasi-civilian government and many of the armed ethnic minority groups.
The drug is mostly made in isolated mobile laboratories hidden in the forests of Shan State in eastern Myanmar, which is also the second-largest global source of opium after Afghanistan.
But at least one major “fairly sophisticated large lab” was discovered in 2012, with quantities of meth suggesting “industrial production,” said Kelley, adding that some well-organized groups had financing from outside the country.
In Thailand the use of methamphetamine has become a major public health issue, said Kelley, with signs that traffickers are pushing “promotional sales” of the more potent crystal meth to develop the market.
The country saw a 63 percent increase in people admitted for treatment for yaba last year, to 245,920. The number of those given help for crystal meth, while still smaller at 16,500, was more than double the previous year.