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Cheap Meth Prices Fuel Drug Abuse in Asia

meth seizure 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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