UN warns of surging meth use across Asia, despite Covid-19 – dpa international



Male detainees at a drugs rehabilitation facility run by the Kachin Independence Army in Laiza, Burma(Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — The market for synthetic drugs, including methamphetamine, continues to grow in Asia despite the coronavirus crisis, according to UN estimates.

“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,” said Jeremy Douglas of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The findings, according to a new report by the agency, that relies on “data from 2019 and in some cases up to the first quarter of 2020,” are something of a surprise.

“It is hard to imagine that organized crime have again managed to expand the drug market, but they have,” said Douglas, the agency’s Bangkok-based representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Police in Bangkok arrested three men on Thursday while confiscating over a million meth pills, while recent weeks have seen Myanmar’s military and police in Hong Kong seizing drugs and manufacturing equipment in separate raids.

Some 115 tons of methamphetamines were confiscated by police across the region in 2019 – a figure that likely represents a small fraction of the overall trade and does not include China, where around 30 tons a year were seized by police over the previous five years.

The rising use of synthetic drugs in Asia runs counter to trends elsewhere, with the UNODC saying that the police seizures in Asia are “not observed in any other part of the world.”

Prices for methamphetamines are their lowest in a decade, the UNODC warned, a reflection of increasingly sophisticated and efficient drugs-making operations in zones such as the Golden Triangle where national governments hold relatively little sway and border restrictions established due to Covid-19 are irrelevant.

Straddling the remote borderlands of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, such hotbeds facilitate the production and trafficking of synthetic drugs, the UN agency said, noting a growing use of opiods such as fentanyl across the region.

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