The rise of synthetic drugs in Asia

On May 20, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its Tokyo Global Synthetic Drug Assessment Report. UNODC chose Tokyo in recognition of the Japanese government’s history in the fight against drugs. Members of the National Police Agency of Japan were present to present information on global and national drug trends.

The detailed report shows that rising demand in East and Southeast Asia is driving continued global growth in the production and distribution of amphetamine-type stimulants, including methamphetamine, and NPS, or new psychoactive substances, including synthetic cannabinoids, which are known collectively. as “spice”.

Asia continues to be the largest market for amphetamine-type stimulants, with methamphetamine seizures in the region tripling in the five years beginning in 2008 to reach 36 tons in 2012. In China, methamphetamine shipments have sharply increased and account for nearly 45% of total seizures in Asia. Thailand, which has seen a massive increase in pill and crystal methamphetamine over the past five years, is another region experiencing an explosion in the trafficking and use of amphetamine-type stimulants.

Global growth of synthetics

Some major changes from the conditions described in previous reports (the report is published every three years) are the rapid expansion of trafficking routes and an explosion of new varieties of illicit substances available on the market. Judge Tettey, head of the UNODC laboratory and science section, drew attention to how the new drug routes have almost mimicked the transport routes opened up by the growth of the global economy. He also highlighted the rapid growth of new drugs, showing that 348 types of NPS were identified in 2013, an increase of about a third from the previous year. Tettey stressed that efforts to reduce the drug supply, such as research, monitoring and law enforcement, must be carried out in tandem with prevention and treatment programs.

Economic growth and the explosion in demand for substances in Asia have prompted organized crime syndicates to expand their smuggling efforts, as Asia and Oceania have seen an increase in drugs from the Middle East, the West Africa and Mexico. Methamphetamine and psychoactive drugs are also increasingly being manufactured in Asia, as rising regional demand and poor regulation of precursor chemicals have prompted drug syndicates to set up more industrial-scale labs.

Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, noted that there is little understanding of the rapid increase in ATS and NPS drugs on the market. The increasing pressures these drugs place on law enforcement, justice systems, prisons and medical systems are difficult to weigh.

Japanese drug seizures on the rise

In Japan, methamphetamine accounts for 84% of all illicit drug use, but Akagawa Haruo, director of the compliance and narcotics division at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, said use synthetic cannabinoids, often called in Japan dappo habu“herbs that circumvent the law” – are on the rise due to low public awareness of their harmful effects.

Takesako Yoshiya, director of international organized drug and firearms investigations at the National Police Agency, explained how the relatively high market value of drugs in Japan has been a factor in organized drug syndicates in Asia. , Mexico, Africa and other regions targeting the country. He noted that the price of methamphetamine in Japan is 10 times higher than in areas where the drug is produced. He then cited efforts by Japanese law enforcement agencies, such as increasing arrests and expanding checks at airports, to reduce the availability of illicit substances on the black market.

A few days before the publication of the UNODC report, the popular Japanese musician and songwriter Aska, half of the duo Chage and Aska, was arrested in Japan for possession of methamphetamine. In recent years, a series of high-profile celebrity drug arrests have captured public attention and helped shine a light on the country’s drug problem.

(Banner photo: Musician Aska is taken to Tokyo Wangan Police Station, May 18. © Jiji Press.)

Alvin J. Chase