Abundance and low price of synthetic drugs pose real challenges in Southeast Asia

A substantial increase in the production of synthetic drugs, methamphetamine in particular, by organized crime syndicates in the Golden Triangle, leading to a sharp drop in production costs and easy affordability for drug users, poses a real challenge to Thailand and other Southeast countries. Asia.

According to the report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), published in May this year, more than one billion tablets of methamphetamine, or “meth”, have been seized in South Asia and Southeast last year, 88.6% of which was seized in the lower Mekong region.

The UNODC report on drug seizures matches the report by the Narcotics Control Board of Thailand, which shows that from last October to August this year, more than 466 million methamphetamine tablets were confiscated in Thailand. Meanwhile, 594 million meth tablets, 18,000 kg of crystal meth (Ice) and 1,500 tons of precursor chemicals were also seized during the same period in countries bordering the Mekong.

According to ONCB Secretary General Wichai Chaimongkhon, the cost of producing methamphetamine has now fallen to around 50 satang, or around US$0.013, per pill and the price is steadily rising when it arrives in Thailand at 10 baht apiece ( 0.26 USD) wholesale and 15 baht retail (0.39 USD).

He said production labs in the Golden Triangle, which are under the control of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), can now produce up to seven million tablets a day from around 65,000. tablets in 1993, resulting in a sharp drop in production. costs, at about 50 satang (0.013 US$) per tablet, following the acquisition of new production equipment.

According to a report by the International Crisis Group, the UWSA’s ability to produce the synthetic drug is attributable to the help of Wei Hseueh-kang, currently UWSA commander and former right-hand man of the warlord of the drug Khun Sa.

Wei is said to have played a pivotal role in developing UWSA’s drug production capacity and transforming Mong Yawng Township into the capital of drug production and distribution in other South Asian countries. -East, including Thailand. In 2010, the production facilities started producing ice cream for export and other armed groups in Myanmar were employed to smuggle drugs out of Myanmar.

According to the ONCB, seven armed minority groups in Myanmar have been involved in the production of synthetic drugs, including the UWSA, Kachin, Lahu, Akha, Shan, all of which are located in Myanmar’s Shan State.

China’s Guangdong province has been identified as the main source of precursor chemicals used in drug production. The other source comes from southern China, via Vietnam and Laos, to Tachilek and Mong Hsat in Myanmar.

According to the UNODC, the chemists involved adapt quite well to exploring new chemicals to use as pre-precursor substances, in case precursors become scarce due to increased law enforcement or tighter controls.

Precursor chemicals used in drug production include ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which are used in the legitimate pharmaceutical industry, phenyl-2-propanon or P-2-P, which is used in the production of cleaning, and sodium cyanide, which is used in gold mining.

According to the ONCB report, one kilogram of sodium cyanide, which is worth around 100 baht, can be used to produce 22,000 tablets of methamphetamine and 0.44 kg of Ice.

However, imports of sodium cyanide are strictly controlled.

Alvin J. Chase