05/30/2022, 15.32
SOUTHEAST ASIA
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A billion methamphetamine tablets seized in Asia in 2021

Manufacturing in Myanmar’s Shan State is on the rise due to civil war. Laos is the main transit route. The use of psychoactive substances like ketamine is also up. Southeast Asia “is literally swimming in methamphetamine," said UN official.

Milan (AsiaNews) – For the first time, a record one billion methamphetamine tablets were seized last year in East and Southeast Asia, this according to a report released today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The COVID-19 pandemic and civil war in Myanmar have increased supply and lowered prices, so despite an increase in seizures, huge amounts of cheap synthetic drugs are available.

In total, local authorities seized 171.5 tonnes of methamphetamine, slightly up from 170 in 2020.

While in East Asia the amounts of methamphetamine seized dropped for the third consecutive year, from 25.7 tonnes to 19.5 tonnes, the Lower Mekong region saw a growth in synthetic drugs.

About 89 per cent of the seizures occurred in Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar (countries that form the so-called Golden Triangle, a region known for making not only meth but also opium and heroin), as well as Vietnam and Cambodia.

“Porous borders do not only facilitate the movement of drugs across regions and territories, but also the movement of chemicals, controlled and non-controlled, to illicit manufacturing sites,” the report reads.

“This has enabled organised crime groups to diversify their manufacturing locations and methods” and “develop new products and substances, including new psychoactive substances” like ketamine.

In Cambodia, for example, 2.7 tonnes of ketamine were seized, almost 15 times the amount confiscated in the previous five years combined.

Of two laboratories dismantled in 2021, one manufactured synthetic drugs on an industrial scale. In January of this year alone, 165 tonnes of chemicals stored in three different warehouses were seized.

While the production of liquid, crystallised and powdered methamphetamine appears to have decreased, tablet seizures jumped by more than 16 per cent between 2020 and 2021.

“The region is literally swimming in methamphetamine and I think it's high time that the region start taking a hard look at policies in place to address the problem," said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Despite seizures, criminal activities continued to expand, Douglas noted; in fact, lower prices mean higher drug production.

For all the countries in the region, methamphetamines are a major concern because of widespread use and associated criminal activities.

Enhanced anti-drug operations in Thailand and southern China have pushed smuggler to use northern Laos; in the communist-ruled country, interceptions are up by 669 per cent, the UNODC report indicates.

in 2021, organised crime used Laos as a main transit country, with seizures reaching a record 143 million tablets (more than double the previous five years combined), mostly brought in from Shan State in Myanmar.

Myanmar is the only country in the region where seizures have dropped due to political instability following a military coup on 1 February 1 2021.

Still, the amounts of seized methamphetamines topped all years before 2020 and were accompanied by a return of ketamine production in early 2022 as well as an increase in seizures of ecstasy, heroin and opium, for the first time up since 2014.

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