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’Yaba’ Use Still on the Rise in Southeast Asia


Yaba tablets, which are a combination of methamphetamine and caffeine, have been on the scene in Thailand for years. The drug’s popularity has now spread and countries throughout Southeast Asia and beyond are seeing increased yaba consumption, addiction, manufacturing, and related crime.

Yaba, which means ‘crazy drug’ in Thai, can be taken orally or melted and inhaled and gives users increased energy, alertness, and a sense of euphoria. Often the pills are laced with fruity or vanilla flavouring, masking the nasty chemical compound found inside. The active ingredient methamphetamine is highly addictive, and with regular use pleasurable feelings dissipate and are replaced with a host of negative effects including violent behaviour, paranoia, and acute psychosis.

The Rise of Yaba in Asia

Yaba has long been popular in the poorer Mekong region countries of Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia, but its use has now spread to wealthier countries such as South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore.

As a stimulant, the drug’s allure is similar to that of cocaine and appeals to people in all socioeconomic positions. The euphoria, seemingly endless energy for work, studying or staying up all night to party, and low price all lure people in to giving it a try. However, with regular use yaba addiction occurs quickly and users are then left with nowhere to turn.

Yaba was first used mainly by farmers and truck drivers in Thailand, and the presence of methamphetamine tablets amongst vulnerable farming communities is still rampant. Some employers buy the drug for farmers, and there are even reports of land owners dissolving the drug in farmer’s drinking water. Unfortunately, farmers are not the only citizens directly targeted, and young people are also targets for dealers looking to make a profit.

In poorer farming regions, many teens have to give up their education to help their families make a living by working on the farm. Some thought they had found a solution in the form of yaba which gave them the energy to work the rubber plantations at night, and still attend school during the day. But as one teen shares, this temporary solution only lead to long term problems and inevitably addiction which compromised his ability to go to school and work, and lands many in prison.

In Bangladesh, where yaba is a new and growing problem, the drug is more expensive than heroin and considered a “white collar drug.” The director of Dhaka’s CREA drug rehab centre in Bangladesh says before 2011 the vast majority of the centre’s clients were heroin users. Since 2011 the number of yaba users started rising and now 60-70% of the centre’s clients are addicted to the stimulant.

It is the increased production and distribution of meth tablets that is fuelling rising consumption and popularity of the drug in the region. The drug can be found on every corner and getting high ‘is as easy as going to 7-Eleven’.

Unbelievable Numbers of Meth Tablet Seizures across Asia

Across the Asia-Pacific region, methamphetamine seizures have quadrupled over five years, and the UN cites rising wealth as one reason for a boom in production and consumption. Myanmar officials recently discovered an abandoned truck outside Yangon carrying approximately 27 million methamphetamine tablets. Thai police also seized more than 300,000 yaba pills in the past three months and arrested six drug trafficking suspects.

Myanmar is notorious for narcotic production and distribution, and is still second in the world for opium cultivation, behind Afghanistan. However, the country is now by far the region’s largest producer of yaba. For many the drug has become more profitable than heroin, as it is cheaper and easier to make and does not rely on erratic opium harvest, plus it is easy to distribute and highly addictive.

In 2013 the UNODC estimated that 1.4 billion meth pills are produced in Myanmar annually. In Myanmar’s eastern Shan State where opium production has plagued the area for decades, and now meth production is rampant, three in five young people are thought to be regular yaba users.

Bangladesh, which is located West of Myanmar, has seen a major increase in meth trafficking and use. In 2008 authorities seized just 36,000 pills. One year later that number rose to 130,000 pills seized. By 2012 nearly two million pills were seized. Earlier this year the country seized 1.5 million yaba pills in a single bust, the largest seizure to date.

The continued increase in intercepted pills follows the drug’s soaring popularity in the country. However, corruption threatens to thwart Bangladesh’s attempts to stop the flow of the drug across its borders from Myanmar.

The Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, plus seven other nations, plans to lower customs barriers and build more roads in order to help free up trade and improve transport, which will have its benefits, but will also make things worse as far as drug trafficking goes. ASEAN nations will need to be aware of the potential increase in trafficking and implement more effective strategies to prevent the travel of drugs across borders.

Limited Addiction Treatment and Asia’s Harsh Criminalisation

Southeast Asia has notoriously harsh drug penalties including the death penalty for drug trafficking in some areas. Discussions of solutions to growing drug problems in the region rarely focus on rehabilitation. While thwarting production and distribution of drugs is a worthwhile endeavour, rehabilitating addicts will help decrease demand as well create safer communities.

Some addiction treatment centres are popping up in the region and can provide effective drug addiction treatment. Criminalisation of users only creates a cycle of incarceration and addiction. Especially if young people receive early intervention for their drug abuse, before severe addiction develops, lives can be saved from both death and incarceration.

The low cost of addictive synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine, coupled with increased wealth across Asia, as well as corruption and poor policy, ensures that addiction’s effects on communities will continue to grow. Now is the time for ASEAN leaders to learn the facts about addiction and work to rehabilitate those with the disease while also keeping as many drugs off the street as possible.

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Alcohol Sales in Asia Increasing Faster than GDP

alcohollReligious, social, and cultural constraints have long kept Asia’s rate of alcohol consumption—and alcohol related harms such as alcoholism—lower than that of other regions. However things are changing and the alcohol industry now sees the biggest potential growth in sales resting in Asia. Regional economies are growing fast and consumers, who are eager to emulate Western drinking habits, want to drink more and more imported liquor rather than local beverages.

Reports indicate that the Asia-Pacific region will contribute to more than 70% of global beer growth over the next five years, and in some places increases in alcohol sales are already far outpacing increases in GDP. Vietnam alone has seen beer sales increase at double the rate of GDP growth in the past 5 years. Some of the world’s largest brewing companies are setting up shop in places like Yangon, Myanmar and Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam in anticipation of the projected growth.

Pernod Ricard—owner of some of the world’s most famous alcohol brands – has already become an industry leader in Asia and currently makes 39% of sales in Asia compared to 35% in Europe and 26% in the Americas. With increased alcohol consumption Asia will also see an increase in alcohol-related harms, something many nations are not currently equipped to deal with.


Alcoholism, Violence, and Other Negative Effects of Increased Alcohol Consumption

The alcohol use trends in Asia not only reflect a general increase in alcohol consumption, but also an increase in binge drinking, especially in places such as Hong Kong. Binge drinking is when a person drinks 4 or more beverages within one sitting, and can often lead to alcoholism.

Alcoholism is a disease that impacts the overall well-being of people who suffer from it. Many people are not well informed about the risks of drinking, including the fact that alcohol is addictive and drinking can lead to alcoholism. As the international alcohol industry makes its way into Asia more and more advertising will glamourize alcohol use, and never show the harmful consequences that alcohol misuse can cause.

The World Health Organisation is calling for a 10% reduction in alcohol abuse and its harmful consequences by 2025. They attribute the harmful use of alcohol to more than 200 diseases and injuries in addition to alcoholism, and it kills 3.3 million people worldwide each year.

Drunk driving is one of the serious concerns to public safety that alcohol use poses. Indonesia is one of the few countries who openly sell alcohol, yet has no legal limits on driver’s blood alcohol levels. Other nations in the region are beginning to assert greater regulation on drunk driving, however they fall behind their Western counterparts in this matter.

While drunk driving is one of the most talked about public health concerns related to alcohol use, the relationship between alcohol and crime should also be put in the spotlight. In the United States, where per capita alcohol use levels are already high, alcohol is a factor in 40% of violent crimes.

With increased alcohol consumption comes increased violence, and people who have been drinking are more likely to be victims of and perpetrators of violence. In Australia, 1 million children are affected by an adult’s alcohol use, and alcohol is a factor in as many as 2/3 of domestic violence cases. Alcohol use increases the severity and incidence of domestic violence. With fast growing rates of consumption, Asian countries may see a similar increase in rates of violence, alcoholism, accidents and death related to alcohol use.


What are Some Countries Doing to Curb Alcohol-Related Harms?

Many countries in Asia are currently facing the issue of how to regulate increased alcohol consumption. Before harsh laws and bans are imposed, it is in the interest of the alcohol industry to stay ahead of the game by showing that it can work to curb alcohol misuse. Currently, 13 of the world’s largest alcohol companies are participating in a world-wide campaign to curtail harmful use of alcohol—leaders of these companies have made commitments to promoting the sensible use of alcohol and discouraging underage drinking and drunk driving.

Regional governments have also put in place some of their own alcohol regulations. Thailand appears to be moving further than other governments to counter growing demand for alcohol in the Asia-Pacific region, however some believe new regulations are a PR stunt that will have little observable impact on consumption patterns.

Thailand recently banned the sale of alcoholic beverages (although the exact implications of this ban are quite unclear) within 300 metres of Colleges and Universities. Officials say the new regulation is aimed at promoting a healthier lifestyle and tackling alcohol related problems—including underage sex. However, there is no clear mention of alcoholism as one of the potential problems.

Indonesia has recently banned alcohol sales in small shops—a ban which has received opposition especially in and near Bali—the country’s major tourist hub. Vietnam, Philippines, and China have also introduced policies to curb alcohol demand.

By contrast, in Myanmar there are currently no national policies or action plans to tackle problems related to alcoholism and increased alcohol consumption. This includes no legal requirements that advertisements and containers contain warning labels, meaning people may be vastly unaware of the potential harms of alcohol.

In much of the world alcohol use is the leading cause of death and disability for people age 15-49, which means alcohol not only poses serious risks to health, but also to development of young people. One major issue facing the region is the lack of treatment options for those who exhibit signs of alcoholism. For the alcoholic, drinking has become out of control and they cannot simply stop on their own. Without intervention the disease of alcoholism will progress and cause serious health and social problems including death.

The Cabin Chiang Mai’s alcohol rehab in Thailand is currently Asia’s leading addiction treatment centre. They offer a safe haven for people across the region to address their alcoholism or drug addiction, and also provide education about addiction to the region. If you or a loved one are having issues with alcohol consumption, it’s important to get help sooner rather than later, if you’re looking for a successful recovery.

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Myanmar’s Deadly Addiction to Betel Nuts


Teeth are stained a dark red colour, and cancer is on the rise in Myanmar. The culprit? The chewing of betel parcels – a leaf wrapped around a mass of betel nut. Know in the area as kun ja, these little parcels are a popular stimulant for Myanmar’s population. Especially, it would seem, for those who work in industries which require long work days.

Users claim that it increases energy, alertness and even delivers fresher breath. However, the negative sides are quite high. For more information on this deadly addiction, read the full article on CNN here: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/04/world/asia/myanmar-betel-nut-cancer/

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Cheap Meth Prices Fuel Drug Abuse in Asia

meth seizure asia

As the economy in most Asian countries continues to grow and citizens gain more spending power than ever before- it seems as though methamphetamines are on the top of many people’s shopping lists.

Concerning statistics pertaining to methamphetamine use, deaths, police seizures and arrests in Asia have emerged from the most recent report released by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Methamphetamine on the Rise: UNODC’s Report on Drug Abuse in Asia


The UN Office of Drugs and Crime released a report in May 2015: “The Challenge of Synthetic Drugs in East and South-East Asia and Oceania: Trends and Patterns of Amphetamine-type Stimulants and New Psychoactive Substances 2015”  gives clear statistics on the rising use and seizures of new synthetic drugs and methamphetamines in Asia.

The report covers the Southeast, East and Oceania areas but leaves out the South of the Asian region. It shows that between 2008 and 2013 that seizures of methamphetamines, or “meth” almost quadrupled, from 11 to 42 metric tons.

Methamphetamine typically comes in two different forms- crystalline and pills. The crystalline form of the drug is the more pure variant and it is the more expensive of the two kinds. UNODC’s report states that the seizures of this form of the drug doubled in the period mentioned, from 7 to 14 metric tons. However, despite this dramatic increase in seizures of this particular form of the drug, UNODC attributes the staggering methamphetamine numbers to the cheaper pill form.

Methamphetamine pills are easy to get and exceedingly cheap throughout Asia. The majority of recorded drug abuse cases in the region are ascribed to the pill which are locally known as ‘yaba’. Seizures of yaba pills and other such methamphetamine-based derivatives rose from 30 million tablets in 2008 to 250 million in 2013.

Yaba has been a widely used drug in countries such as Thailand and Vietnam for many years and were commonly taken by people who had to work for long hours, such as truck and taxi drivers, in order to stay awake for long periods of time (to make more money). However, this report suggests that yaba has made its way over to wealthier countries such as South Korea and Singapore where it is becoming popular among the middle class.

Reasons for the Increasing Levels of Drug Abuse in Asia

The rising levels of substance abuse disorders and drug addiction in Asia have been put down to a variety of different factors.

The first factor that is being purported for the higher levels of methamphetamine and drug abuse in Asia, is rising economic status and personal wealth. The fact of the matter is, that people in Asia now have more money to spend than ever before, and this hasn’t gone unnoticed by local and international drug cartels. This means that not only are more meth labs opening up in countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, China and Vietnam, but that international operators have also increased their trade to the region. Methamphetamine all the way from West Africa and South America are being imported into Asia. The increased supply of drugs has resulted in incredibly low prices of methamphetamine. In fact, many claim that buying meth is cheaper than a fast food meal in many parts of Asia.

Linked to the increasing levels of economic growth and stability is the cross-boarder trading zones and reduced border restrictions that are now found in Asia. This newly found economic strength and freedom has resulted in an increased amount of trade between Asian countries and with the rest of the world. While this relative relaxation of border control and boundaries definitely helps the economies throughout Asia due to the ease of trade- it also means that it has become that much easier for drugs to be smuggled throughout the area, therefore contributing to drug abuse in the region.

The high levels of drug abuse in Asia can also be put down to its geographical location. The borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos form what is known as the ‘Golden Triangle’, which is renowned for being one of the biggest opium producing areas in the world. The area, however, has now diversified and there are hundreds of meth labs in the region. The ‘Golden Crescent’ of Afghanistan and Pakistan is also nearby, which means that drugs are easy to access from a number of different places.

The Effects of the Increasing Drug Abuse in Asia


Many countries in Asia are yet to perform studies on the effects that high levels of drug abuse are having on their countries. However, China recently upped their effort in fighting the drug war that is currently ravaging the region and undertook a number of high profile arrests that included Jackie Chan’s son Jaycee Chang. China is one of the countries where the death penalty is still used for drug related crimes, and the death penalty debate is often one that comes up in their efforts to fight off the wave of drug abuse in the country.

China recently released an assessment on the economic impacts that drug abuse has had on the country and the statistics were fairly startling. The assessment told that annually about 500 billion Yuan, which is the equivalent of nearly 81 billion dollars, is lost in the economy through drug abuse.

While this assessment only included China, it does paint a similar picture across most of Asia where dramatic increases in drug abuse, and the crimes relating to the industry, are costing the countries hugely on an economic front.

While most countries across Asia have reformed their drug policies and have created strategies to better police their borders and have declared an open war on drugs, some people see it as a case of “too little too late”, as the drug abuse problem is already rampant and getting it under control is going to be a huge undertaking.

One thing that is for sure, is that if the prices continue to drop, while the people continue to get wealthier- Asia is going to continue to struggle with a huge drug abuse problem throughout the region.

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‘Digital Detox’ Centres Open in Japan for 500,000 Teens Addicted to the Internet

internet-addiction-japanInternet addiction is a type of process addiction that is becoming increasingly common among youth. With internet access always available, regular internet use goes too far when users begin losing sleep, dropping grades at school, or even getting demoted or fired in the workplace because internet use has become more important than other aspects of life.

In Japan, internet addiction is soaring with an estimated 500,000 teenagers presumably addicted to the net. From playing games, to interacting in online chat rooms or simply scrolling through Facebook, these activities can create negative effects when taken too far. Teens are dropping out of school, and in worst case scenarios internet addiction can result in violence and even death. Will this ‘digital detox’ centre be able to combat the growing problem?

Find out more here: Japan Tries Online Detox

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Bali Drug Laws Unclear: Some Drug Offenders Executed, Others Not

Bali Drug Laws

Bali Drug Laws – Death Penalty Debate

Events in Indonesia over the last few years have resulted in an increase of focus and criticism on the laws regarding drug related crimes in the country. There have been calls from various international organisations and prominent leaders for Indonesia to address the inconsistencies and severity in the sentencing that has come up in the most recent cases in Bali. It has also created a hotly contested death penalty debate that has gone worldwide.

The drug scene in Indonesia is one of great contradictions; Bali drug laws have one of the strictest policies with regards to drug possession and trafficking in the world, but it also has one of the highest cases of drug and alcohol abuse too. Indonesia’s size and proximity to the Golden Triangle, which is one of the biggest trafficking rings in the world and lies on the border of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, make it an extremely difficult terrain to successfully manage the transportation of drugs in and out of its island borders.

Bali’s Drug Laws

Bali drug laws are harsh and the sentencing for Group 1 drugs is particularly severe. If caught in possession, an offender can get a 4 to 12-year prison sentence. In cases of possession exceeding a certain weight, the offender can be handed a life imprisonment sentence. Trafficking of these drugs can lead to a 5 to 15 year prison sentence, and if the drugs exceed a certain weight, the guilty party can receive the death penalty, as was the case with two of the infamous Bali 9.

Discrepancies and Inconsistencies in Bali Drug Laws and Sentencing

In the last couple of years, there have been a number of cases where the offenders have been served harsh sentences including the death penalty, where others have gotten away with lighter sentencing. The disparities in Bali’s Drug Laws have been brought into focus by the cases below:

 The Bali 9

The inconsistencies in Bali’s drug laws were most recently highlighted by the highly publicised case of the Bali 9. The Bali 9 was a group of 9 Australians that were arrested in 2005 for attempting to smuggle 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds) of heroin from Bali into Australia. Seven out of the nine Australians were given life sentences and two were sentenced to death. In April 2015, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were executed by firing squad on the island of Nusakambangan along with 6 other men of varying nationalities. The only female in the Bali 9 group, Renae Lawrence had her sentence reduced to 20 years imprisonment.

Filipina Mary Jane Veloso

Seven inmates were set to be executed along with Sukumaran and Chan of the Bali 9, but at the last moment, the life of a Philippines citizen, Filipina Mary Jane Veloso, was spared. Although there was no formal statement given by the court about their decision, it is thought that there were developments in her case that may have had an effect on proceedings. It was also claimed that Vesolo may have been a victim of human trafficking and was unaware of the 2.6kgs of heroin that was in the bag she was handed.

Aleksandra Magnaeva

Further inconsistencies were brought to light by the sentencing of Russian woman, Aleksandra Magnaeva, who was convicted of smuggling 2.1 kilograms of crystal methamphetamines into Bali. She was handed a 16.5-year jail sentence, not execution, because the court found that she showed remorse for her crimes.

 Bayu Anggit Permana

In the most recent case, a prison guard on the same island where the Bali 9 duo were executed, was caught trafficking more than 350 grams of methamphetamines. The guard claims that an inmate at one of the prisons on the island gave him the drugs. Bayu Anggit Permana was sentenced to 12 years in prison just weeks after the execution of Chan and Sukumaran took place.

The disparities in the cases above showcased the unreliability and inconsistency within Bali’s drug laws, and they have been at the forefront of a widespread death penalty debate.

The Death Penalty Debate

 The recent debacle of discordance within the Bali drug laws has fanned the flames on the already heated debate on the death penalty. Many prominent political and international figures have spoken out against the use of the death penalty as a form of punishment, included UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

The Australian government also added its voice to the fray and even removed the country’s ambassador in Indonesia after the execution of the Chan and Sukuruman. However, the Australian government has also been highly criticized about its decision to allow the Bali 9 to be arrested in Indonesia and not on Australian soil, knowing full well what the consequences would be in accordance with Bali’s drug laws.

If the death penalty is used in a country, the question remains in where it should be used and who has the right to choose who lives and who dies? In the case of Bali’s drug laws, how were they able to decide that Sukuruman and Chan should be the only ones who received the death penalty? It was reported that during their decade in prison they had completely reformed and become model inmates who helped to counsel and comfort other inmates that had substance abuse disorders. How then, did they differ from Aleksandra Magnaeva if they too showed remorse for their actions? Why were they not given a reprieve?

Bali’s drug laws were also called into serious question with the light sentencing of the prison guard Bayu Anggit Permana. Surely his position as a guard in a prison, where most inmates have been convicted of drug offences, should have made him more aware of the risks and consequences of trafficking? Should he not have been handed a sentence as harsh as many of the inmates he was meant to be guarding?

The death penalty will continue to be a hotly debated topic for many years to come, and whether you oppose it or agree with the penalty, it is clear to see that there needs to be some sort of change to address the inconsistencies and discrepancies that are found worldwide in the sentencing of inmates onto death row.

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UN: Little Progress Against Asia’s Booming Synthetic Drugs Trade

synthetic drugs asiaSynthetic drugs are once again in the spotlight in East and Southeast Asia. The UN has shared their growing concern over the production and distribution of synthetic drugs from the area.

Recently, there have been several deaths around the world caused by young people taking ecstasy, or ‘Molly’, which they believed was pure MDMA – but instead, these pills are more and more frequently being made with synthetic chemicals. And, the majority of these often deadly chemicals are coming from Asia.

Read on to find out how the UN will attempt to tackle this crisis: http://www.voanews.com/content/united-nations-asia-synthetic-drugs/2728597.html


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