Strong and growing demand for drugs in Asia is driving up global production of methamphetamine, with seizures in the region tripling in five years to record levels, a UN body said yesterday.
Both the use and the production of the drug is increasing, in line with the expanding economy of the world’s most populous continent, leading to growing social problems and higher health care bills.
Methamphetamine, also called “meth” and Ice, is an extremely addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system.
Chronic use can lead to mood disturbances, violent behaviour and symptoms of psychosis such as paranoia and hallucinations.
It excluded so-called “ecstasy” drugs, which are usually reported separately in drug surveys.
“Over the years, methamphetamine seizures have been predominantly reported in East and Southeast Asia, in countries such as China, Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand,” the office said ahead of the report’s launch in Tokyo.
It said Asia had long been the world’s largest market for methamphetamine and drug dealers were targeting its rapid economic success.
About a third of the estimated US$90 billion illegal economy in Asia came from drugs, said Jeremy Douglas, the drug office’s regional representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“The region has had a longstanding problem with... methamphetamine use,” he said.
“It originated as a drug that was taken by poor people, traditionally workers. That migrated into youth culture over a decade ago. More recently, that has evolved into a growing prosperous youth culture.
“You have rising incomes occurring across the region. You have a large, large youth population. So you have natural growth of the market” that has attracted criminals from around the world.
Seizures of ATS-related drugs tripled in Asia to at least 36 tonnes a year in the five years to 2012, the office said.
It said China had had particularly severe problems. Six tonnes of methamphetamine were seized in 2008, with the figure soaring to more than 16 tonnes in 2012, accounting for 45 per cent of total methamphetamine seizures for Asia that year.
Growing ATS use was accompanied by expanding regional production, with large bases seen in China, Myanmar and the Philippines, the UN body said.
The drug was often trafficked for long distances, and the routes were becoming increasingly well-trodden.
These are notably from Mexico, the Middle East, South and West Asia and West Africa to Japan and other lucrative markets in East and Southeast Asia and Oceania.
Ironically, the factors that are starting to boost living standards in Asia – greater regional integration resulting in improved trade – are also accelerating the spread of the drug.
Closer ties among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have increased the region’s flow of people and goods, including drugs.
Criminal groups are increasingly opening drug factories in the region. They are known to provide cheap products when trying to cultivate a new market and to raise prices once new customers are addicted.
Douglas said Southeast Asian states and other countries most affected by the crisis often had very little capacity to stop the crimes.
The continued spread of methamphetamine across Asia also posed a growing challenge to justice systems and health providers in societies with large youthful populations, the UN said.
Douglas stressed the need to strengthen police capacity and measures to fight crime and corruption, while intensifying research and public awareness of the problem.