Asia engulfed in new wave of methamphetamine use
Narcotic production in Myanmar leads to widespread drug abuse
Methamphetamine, an illegal narcotic that can be easily manufactured with household chemicals, is known by many names - "crank" and "Tina" among them. In the United States, the drug is popular with unemployed white people, who turn to it for a cocaine-like high at a fraction of the cost. This deadly drug is now making inroads into Asia, with production in Myanmar spurring on increased abuse.
Methamphetamine is usually ingested, smoked, snorted and injected. Known in Thailand as "yaba," where it is consumed in pill form, "yaba" means "crazy medicine."
Last year alone, 227 million methamphetamine pills were seized in East and Southeast Asia, which is up 59 percent from 2011. This marks more than a seven-fold increase compared with 2008, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said.
"If you look at the five year trends, since 2008 the seizures have increased pretty exponentially," UNODC regional analyst Shawn Kelley says.
This unfortunate trend continued well into 2013, due to increased efforts by law enforcement agencies in addition to increased methamphetamine production in Myanmar.
Crystal meth seizures have also increased, jumping 12-fold in Myanmar, 10-fold in Brunei, 91 percent in Hong Kong, 75 percent in both Indonesia and Cambodia and 33 percent in Japan.
Methamphetamine is usually ingested, smoked, snorted and injected. Known in Thailand as "yaba," where it is consumed in pill form, "yaba" means "crazy medicine." Its commonly used by party-goers as well as those who are forced to work long hours at low paying jobs. Prices range from $3 a pill in Laos up to $20 in Singapore. Methamphetamine is also the second most popular drug of choice in China among the country's more than two million registered users - ranking only after heroin.
Meth is also ranked as the top drug of concern in Japan, where an estimated 0.2 percent of secondary school students have used meth.
Authorities in China, Thailand, Myanmar, Japan and Laos seized 99 percent of all yaba in East and Southeast Asia last year, according to the UNODC report.
Much of the methamphetamine seized in Thailand is thought to be produced in neighboring Myanmar. Before that country began opening up to the world under a new reformist government in 2011, it was believed that rebels were increasing drug production to buy weapons amid tensions with the then-ruling junta. "But now it's still going on," Kelley says.
Methamphetamine production in Myanmar usually takes place in isolated mobile laboratories hidden in the forests of Shan State in eastern Myanmar, which is also the second-largest global source of opium after Afghanistan.
One major "fairly sophisticated large lab" was discovered there in 2012, with quantities of meth suggesting "industrial production," Kelley says.
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