UN drug crimes agency warns surge of cheap drugs in Southeast Asia


The market for synthetic drugs in East and Southeast Asia is growing, with the price of methamphetamine dropping to its lowest levels in ten years as supplies surge, the global anti-drug group said.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warned in its report released on May 15 that drug production and trafficking in the region have grown unabated and uncontrolled.

The report, “Synthetic Drugs in East and Southeast Asia: Latest Developments and Challenges,” confirmed that the variety and volume of synthetic drugs produced and trafficked in the region increased in the past year.

“It is hard to imagine that organised crime has again managed to expand the drug market, but they have,” said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

“While the world has shifted its attention to the COVID-19 pandemic, all indications are that production and trafficking of synthetic drugs and chemicals continue at record levels in the region,” he said.

The production of synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and more potent variations, have become more concentrated within and around the Golden Triangle, the area where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers, a remote zone of limited government control, UNODC said.

An increase in methamphetamine manufacturing is also occurring in Cambodia and Vietnam as production facilities are dismantled in other parts of the region, consolidating drug production activities in the lower Mekong region, the report said.

East and Southeast Asian nations have seen sustained increases in seizures of methamphetamines during the past decade — more than in any other part of the world — with countries in the region reporting seizures of 115 tons of the drug in 2019, the report said.

This figure excludes data from China, which confiscated almost 30 tons of methamphetamines on average over the last five years.

“[W]e are concerned Southeast Asia could become a source for other parts of the world while these substances get mixed into or displace part of the regional heroin supply,” UNOCD said in the statement.

Besides methamphetamines and synthetic opioids, other drugs such as ecstasy, ketamine, and cannabinoids are now found across the region, the agency said.

A major development in the region’s methamphetamine market in has been the supply of methamphetamine in crystalline form, particularly in Southeast Asia, which has been more pronounced and persistent compared to the illicit substance in tablet form, the report said. (Source: RFA)