Burma fuelling ‘record high’ meth seizures in Asia: UN

Burma fuelling ‘record high’ meth seizures in Asia: UN

Burma continues to be the primary source of methamphetamine type stimulants (ATS) in East and Southeast Asia, contributing to record high seizures in 2012, the UN said on Friday.

In its annual report of methamphetamine-based substances, the UN Office for Drugs and Crime noted that drug seizures in Burma had more than tripled to 18 million pills since 2011.

It is the fifth consecutive year that meth seizures have increased in the region, reaching 227 million pills in total or a seven-fold increase since 2008.

Most of Burma’s drugs are believed to be produced in eastern Shan state, including the Kokang special region which has long been associated with the methamphetamine and heroin trade.

“Myanmar [Burma] continues to be a major source of methamphetamine pills, crystalline methamphetamine, opium and heroin in Southeast Asia,” said the report. “Significant amounts of methamphetamine originating from Myanmar continue to be seized in neighbouring countries.”

Around 90 percent of the meth seized in Thailand came from Burma, even though the Burmese government dismantled its first-ever meth laboratories in the Kokang region in January 2012.

Nearly 2,000 arrests for meth-related offences were recorded in Burma in 2012, more than doubling since 2008. The surge in meth seizures corresponds with a series of democratic reforms taking place in Burma, which has led to multiple ceasefires being struck between the government and ethnic minority rebels in Shan state.

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The remote and mountainous terrain bordering Thailand and China has long been home to a flourishing trade of narcotics, funding decades of conflict between ethnic rebel groups and government-backed militias.

Growing domestic demand has also contributed to a rise in drug-related arrests, said the report. But it warned that most drug addicts in Burma – which number between 300,000-400,000 according to government figures – do not have access to effective treatment.

“Most drug users do not seek treatment voluntarily, and there are no treatment facilities in the country that are capable of providing evidence-based treatment and specifically focus on ATS dependency,” said the report.

Although heroin and opiates remain the primary drugs ingested in Burma, the data indicates that use is declining. However, the total area of opiate cultivation reached its highest level since 2002, increasing by 17 percent to 51,000 hectares in 2012. The potential opium production was placed at 690 tons, with an estimated 300,000 households involved in cultivation.

The report also blamed rising demand in other Asian countries as well as growing regional integration for the increase in drug-related arrests and seizures. The ecstasy market has experienced a “resurgence” in Asia along with the spread in other psychoactive substances, according to the data.

The main Asian markets for Burmese-made methamphetamine drugs are believed to be India, Malaysia and Singapore. China remains the largest heroin market, with some 90 percent of seizures coming from Burma. 

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