The market for methamphetamine pills is booming in China as drug trade and consumption continues to expand throughout the region, a report commissioned by the United Nations released on Friday shows.
“There is large demand [for drugs] and there is a large young population in the region,” said Jeremy Douglas, the Bangkok-based regional representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. “If you look ahead, we don’t see the situation getting better.”
In a report on regional trends released on Friday, the UNODC documented a peak year in drug production and use with opium poppy cultivation in Southeast Asia continuing to increase over the past six years. From 2011 to last year, the total cultivated area increased by a fifth to 58,000 hectares in the Golden Triangle, the lawless border area shared by Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, according to the report.
Douglas also sees a troubling turn towards synthetic drugs. While opiates are associated with older drug users, “the surge in youth drug use will be in synthetics,” he said.
A total of 227 million methamphetamine pills were seized in East and Southeast Asia last year, according to the report. That is 59 per cent more than a year earlier and more than seven times more than in 2008, when only 31 million were seized.
Last year, most of these pills were seized in China, where seizures increased by 25 per cent to 102 million pills from a year earlier.
In comparison, heroin seizures were relatively constant, increasing by only 2.9 per cent to 7.2 million tons. While heroin and other opiates-related arrests in China were also relatively stagnant at more than 48,000 last year, meth-related arrests have surged 68 per cent last year from a year earlier to more than 75,000, according to the report.
China’s indigenous meth labs appear to be centred in the southern Guangdong province, where 288 out of the 326 meth labs busted last year were located. Police also dismantled an industrial-scale meth lab in Hunan last year, arresting 14 including one Mexican.
In Hong Kong, meth is also gaining ground. Crystalline methamphetamine seizures increased by 91 per cent to 73.2 kilograms. Synthetic drugs-related arrests, 970, were up 33 per cent compared to the previous year reaching the highest level in a decade.
For Douglas, the turn from opiates to meth is bringing new challenges to his job. “Unlike opium, this is highly mobile production,” he said. “You can move it anywhere and set up in a house or a factory.”
“Looking ahead, the data is pointing in the wrong direction.”