Thai abbot arrested for treating drug addicts with ‘medicine’ laced with amphetamines

Thailand’s harsh anti-drug laws, where the possession of just a few methamphetamine pills is enough to land offenders a decade in jail, has also led to a booming prison population – the largest in Southeast Asia

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 September, 2017, 5:39pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 September, 2017, 5:40pm

An abbot at a Thai temple treating drug addicts has been arrested for selling patients traditional medicine laced with methamphetamine following an undercover sting operation, authorities said on Friday.

Thailand has a major methamphetamine addiction problem but government-run rehabilitation centres are woefully underfunded, so temples often step in, fuelled by the principle that good deeds build karma.

However, they are not regulated and often use controversial methods – one monk-led centre encourages patients to vomit every day by drinking a secret tincture of herbs.

Investigators said they sent an undercover officer into Khao Sripermsawang temple in central Nakhon Nayok province to pose as a drug addict after receiving tip-offs from former patients.

The small vials of medicine, sold as an addiction cure, cost 100 baht (US$3) each and drug users were charged 500 baht to enter the rehab programme.

We checked and found that the traditional medicine was mixed with methamphetamine
Sitthisak Watjanarat, Office of Narcotics Control Board

“We checked and found that the traditional medicine was mixed with methamphetamine,” said Sitthisak Watjanarat, a senior official at Thailand’s Office of Narcotics Control Board.

The temple’s abbot, 61-year-old Opas Thammachot, was promptly arrested on Thursday for drug-trafficking alongside a lay temple worker.

Sitthisak said the abbot and the worker both denied the charge, adding they said they were baffled at how methamphetamine got into the medicine.

Cartels in the Golden Triangle border regions of Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and southern China churn out reams of pure methamphetamine and less potent yaba (crazy) pills.

Foreign addicts also flock to the country’s huge variety of rehab centres, from glitzy five-star resorts to village temples.

Meth seizures have grown for much of the past decade but street prices remain unchanged, indicating the cartels can easily ramp up production to make up for any losses.

Thailand’s harsh anti-drug laws, where the possession of just a few methamphetamine pills is enough to land offenders a decade in jail, has also led to a booming prison population – the largest in Southeast Asia.

The kingdom has the highest incarceration rate in the region, with women hit particularly disproportionately.

More women are jailed per capita in Thailand than in any other nation in the world and over 80 per cent of the country’s 39,000 female convicts are in prison on drug-related offences, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.