More Needs to be Done to Curb Methamphetamine Production in the Mekong Region

Methamphetamine has become more accessible and available, despite efforts to disrupt supply and precursor chemicals. New strategies are needed to stop the production in the Golden Triangle.

The Thai government has a proactive policy and initiatives to reduce the supply of drugs. Thailand has been a strong proponent of the Safe Mekong Initiative. The Initiative includes Lao PDR, China, Cambodia and Vietnam.  It has been expanded to achieve more concrete results in a 4-year plan.

“More needs to be done”, says Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Prajin Juntong. “ASEAN countries need to work together in a more concerted and trilateral manner”.

The minister has praised Myanmar and Lao for their efforts to reduce the level of opium poppy cultivation. There has been a 35% drop since 2013, as well as decreases in the seizure of heroin.

We still see about 15 tonnes produced in the Golden Triangle, of which 10 tonnes are seized, the deputy minister said.  While we have seen a decrease in opium cultivation, there has been a significant increase in methamphetamine seizures; placing the Mekong sub region as the one of world’s leading methamphetamine sources.

At the same time as this surge, we have seen a decrease in the number of drug laboratories seized.  In Southern Shan state, there has been a significant increase in methamphetamine production as well as seizures from Thailand.

Thailand has made most of the seizures of the past year, about 80 tonnes. Seizures of crystal methamphetamine has amounted to about 18 tonnes. Most of the seizures have taken place in northern Thailand. To put it into context, the amount seized by Thailand last year exceeded the total amount seized in ASEAN by 9 times.  We are now seeing Thailand move from a yaba market to a yaba/crystal methamphetamine market, Prajin said.

Shipments of methamphetamine have moved from Thailand to Malaysia and then other parts of Asia. There have been pronounced volume of methamphetamine to Lao, to circumvent the heavy controls that Thailand has put in place.

Despite Thailand’s increased efforts to curb trafficking prices have been decreasing. There is now an oversupply of the drug at low prices not just in the Mekong but beyond.  It is not unreasonable to expect that shipments of the drug will move beyond Australia, Korea and Japan.

One of the things that worry Thailand is the supply of precursor chemicals. This is very troubling data for us he said.  “We have seen the supply surge which indicates there is no shortage of the precursors available. There is also diversity in the precursors used.”

I’m very pleased we are implementing new projects with other partners.  We believe that Malaysia will continue to be a major transit point for drugs coming out of the Mekong.

There have also been significant shifts in the use of transport modes, e.g. the use of parcel post. Shipments of crystal meth have been going to New Zealand via parcel post.  Money laundering is another issue, so we are looking at working with this group to monitor illicit financial flows including through casinos.

The crucial point is the impact on public health. With increased drug use, comes’ increased risks and the need for drug treatment.

The Deputy Prime Minister was speaking at a conference with the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs.