A record one billion methamphetamine pills were seized in East and Southeast Asia last year, the UN said Monday, as crime gangs exploited the Covid-19 pandemic and instability in coup-hit Myanmar to boost their activities.
Southeast Asia’s so-called Golden Triangle has long been an infamous hotspot for drug trafficking, with Myanmar, Laos and Thailand’s porous borders and lax local policing allowing illegal substances to slip across.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said law enforcement netted nearly 172 tonnes of methamphetamine – approximately seven times more than a decade ago – and the surging supply has sent street prices in Thailand and Malaysia crashing to all-time lows.
“The scale and reach of the methamphetamine and synthetic drug trade in East and Southeast Asia is staggering,” Jeremy Douglas of UNODC said in a statement.
He said crime syndicates and armed groups had capitalised on the region’s political instability and the pandemic to make dramatic gains.
“Organised crime have all the ingredients in place that they need to continue to grow the business,” he said, adding that they crucially had a “massive population with spending power to target”.
Kavinvadee Suppapongtevasakul, UNODC regional synthetic drugs analyst for the global Smart programme, said the drug’s plummeting prices had made it “much more accessible and available to those that could not afford it before.”
“The social consequences of increased use are significant, and health and harm reduction services remain limited across the region,” she added.
While meth pill figures rocketed, the UNODC also noted a slight downturn in crystal methamphetamine, with 79 tonnes seized compared to 82 tonnes in 2020 – but still dramatically up from the less than 10 tonnes taken a decade ago.
Myanmar’s northern Shan state remains the region’s primary source of meth, with the drug increasingly shipped to Laos, then Thailand before reaching Malaysia, where it is trafficked onward to countries throughout the Asia Pacific, the report said.