A United Nations report on narcotics says that despite drops in opium production in Southeast Asia, more people in the region are injecting heroin, causing fears of an increase in HIV/AIDS. Amphetamine abuse is another major concern for the region.
A U.N. International Narcotics Control Board report says more addicts in Southeast Asia have moved from smoking opium to injecting heroin, which could trigger the spread of the AIDS virus in the region.
The report says the trend was most evident in Cambodia, China, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam.
The trend comes despite a fall in opium poppy cultivation in the infamous Golden Triangle - Thailand, Laos and Burma - due to successful crop substitution programs. The region is the largest producer of opium after Afghanistan.
In Laos, for example, the United Nations says opium poppy cultivation dropped 45 percent in 2004.
Akira Fujino, regional representative of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, says the declines reflect the success of crop substitution programs, especially in Thailand.
"Thailand's now almost free of illicit opium production,” said Mr. Fujino. “Over several decades, Thai authorities have been working very closely with the communities concerning the highlands, and they have successfully addressed the issue."
But another key concern for the U.N. body is the production of amphetamines, with Asia accounting for more than two-thirds of the world's amphetamine abusers.
Burma, China, and to a lesser extent the Philippines, remain the main areas of amphetamine production. In Burma, many of the factories operate close to the Thai border.
Thailand has the highest level of amphetamine abuse, followed by the Philippines and Macau. The report said Vietnam is also seeing a large increase in amphetamine abuse.
Mr. Fujino says international policing efforts have succeeded in reducing access to the precursor chemicals needed to produce amphetamines, but this might only be pushing production elsewhere.
"Because of the tightened controls in those countries traffickers appear to have been forced to relocate their clandestine lab sites," he added.
Mr. Fujino says one place narcotics producers have gone is the Pacific islands. In June last year, he says, authorities in Fiji uncovered a major amphetamine laboratory, one of the largest ever uncovered in the Southern Hemisphere.