Report: Burgeoning Market for Methamphetamine in Burma

By Nyein Nyein 2 June 2017

RANGOON – The methamphetamine market in Burma has remained high, along with other countries in East and Southeast Asia, as seizures of the drug rose steadily between 2006 and 2015, according to a new report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released Thursday.

The report, titled “The challenges of Synthetic Drugs in East and South-East Asia,” reviews trends and patterns of amphetamine-type stimulants and new psychoactive substances from 2006 to 2015.

It noted annual seizures of methamphetamine increased more than fivefold in East and Southeast Asia during the period, while heroin seizures increased by only 75 percent.

Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam saw increasing use whereas other countries in the region saw either stable or decreasing use, the report said.

The report did not cover May 2016 to 2017, but Burmese authorities seized 4.6 million methamphetamine pills in Maungdaw Township, Arakan State in February and 400,000 methamphetamine pills in May of this year.

Authorities seized approximately 50 million methamphetamine tablets in 2015—including a seizure of 26.7 million methamphetamine tablets in Rangoon in July 2015 and another two million in September that year—which is larger than the sum seized between 2012 and 2014.

Last week alone, Burma’s anti-narcotics police in different parts of the country seized almost 300,000 stimulant tablets in eastern Shan, Karen and northern Arakan states, according to state media.

On Monday, an anti-narcotics squad, together with the local Border Guard Force seized 218,400 stimulant tablets and seven kilos of powdered stimulant drugs in Parkhar village in Tachileik in Shan State. Two days before, anti-narcotics police in Lashio seized 39,000 stimulant tablets from two vehicles on the Lashio-Mandalay Road near Nawnghkio on May 27.

On May 28, Karen state’s Hpa-an district anti-narcotics squad seized 28,000 tablets in a house in Htoogon village. Some 230 stimulants drugs known as “WY” were seized in Arakan State’s Buthidaung Township on Sunday.

Heroin remains a drug of major concern in some Southeast Asian countries, including Burma, Malaysia and Vietnam, said the UNODC report, with Burma being one of the main sources of opium poppy cultivation and heroin manufacturing.

Methamphetamine pills are widely used in Burmese society, especially among young people in rural areas, said Dr. Nang Pann Ei Kham, a drug policy advocate in Burma.

“The users mostly smoke the drugs, believing that the methamphetamine can boost their capacity to work. It has been widely used not only in urban communities, but sadly spreading into villages and rural areas,” she said, explaining that more research needs to be done on the issue.

Part of the availability of the tablets and pills are due to trading of the substances for the raw opium, she added, as poppy producers are given the stimulants for about two-thirds of the cost for the opium, in cultivation areas such as in Shan and Kachin states.

Drug policy advocates stressed the need to create markets for other crops, to persuade opium farmers to stop. Ongoing conflicts in Burma’s northeast have hampered such campaigns, they noted.

Illicit drug trafficking and drug addiction “is a key problem and must be tackled as a national issue” said Daw San Wint Khaing, the Pa-O ethnic affairs minister from Mon State.

“The drug problem is affecting everyone in each state and region, regardless of their age, thus the drug problem must be regarded as a social issue as well as a security issue,” she told The Irrawaddy last week.

She supported the government’s drug eradication policy and highlighted the need to include it in future policy. She noted that one of the 37 principles signed at the recent Union Peace Conference was the prevention of drug trafficking.