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HomeNewsIllicit drugs may now be cheaper than rice in Myanmar's cities

Illicit drugs may now be cheaper than rice in Myanmar’s cities


“How much do you want? If you purchase in larger quantities, I’ll even throw in a little extra as a gift,” said *Min Min trying to entice his customer to buy more illicit drugs.

In Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial capital, Min Min deals drugs in a low-income area. He sells marijuana and tablets with WY imprinted on them. These tablets are a synthetic drug composed of methamphetamine and caffeine and is known under various names throughout the region, but most commonly as “ya ba [crazy medicine]” in the Thai language. 

Min Min pays regular bribes to military regime officials to keep himself out of prison and harm’s way. He says he can operate out in the open as long as he keeps the money flowing into military coffers. “The price of a WY tablet depends on its quality. Those from Thailand are the most expensive. Locals can’t afford [it],” Min Min explained.

WY tablets range in price depending on the area of the city from K700-1,500 (up to $0.60 USD). Before the 2021 military coup the cost in Yangon was K1,500-2,000 ($0.80 USD). 

Note: The official exchange rate in Myanmar is K2,100 and the unofficial rate is K3,330 per $1 USD. 

Min Min says many young people have become addicted to WY tablets. They now resort to begging, or even theft, to maintain the drug addiction. “[Drug addicts] have turned to criminal activities, like theft,” said a Yangon resident.

Township authorities note there has been a rise in drug-related crime across Yangon, but police seem not to be active in investigating. “Drugs are abundant, and unemployed young people are falling victim to addiction, leading to an increase in robberies and murders,” added the Yangon resident. 

There have even been reported cases of drug overdoses and deaths resulting from drug consumption at nightclubs in Myanmar. A 19-year-old died at a KTV (Karaoke Television) restaurant in Muse town of Shan State, located near the China-Myanmar border.

Over the last two years, illicit drugs have proliferated nationwide, and the prices have dropped considerably, according to Min Min. Meanwhile the price of essential goods have skyrocketed due to the inflation caused by the military regime’s economic mismanagement.

The price of illicit drugs has decreased to the point where it can be considered cheaper than rice – a basic food staple in Myanmar. The price of rice has tripled since the 2021 coup and is now K3,500-4,000 ($1.30 USD) per 2 kgs. 

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) states that this year opium cultivation has surged by 33 percent. The military regime is primarily focused on suppressing resistance to its rule rather than drug production. 

In some cases, authorities are suspected of cooperating with drug dealers like Min Min, keeping the nation’s youth subdued and intoxicated rather than politically-active, which would threaten the nations path to a seamless transition back to military rule in Myanmar.

*name changed to protect identity


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