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Asian Nations Act to Curb Spread of Chemical Drugs

  • Daniel Schearf

Officials of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the United Nations, and China say efforts to fight drug trafficking in Southeast Asia are working, and that Laos may soon be declared free of illegal poppy cultivation. But they want to see countries crack down on chemicals used to make amphetamine-type stimulants, which are manufactured in Burma and are spreading rapidly in the region.

After a three-day meeting in Beijing, ministers from Southeast Asia and China agreed to suppress the availability of chemicals used in such illegal synthetic drugs as methamphetamine and ecstasy. These chemical-based drugs are spreading quickly in the region even as the opium poppies that form the natural base for heroin are being eradicated.

Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, one of the organizers of the event, says opium-control efforts in Southeast Asia have been successful, and that illegal drug cultivation in Laos - and then the region - will soon be a thing of the past.

"We are now approaching an historic moment when, at least in terms of cultivation, Southeast Asia, the Golden Triangle, China, all these countries are going to be drug-free at least in terms of cultivation," he said.

Mr. Costa warns that manufacture and distribution of illegal synthetic stimulants is a growing problem. This is especially so in Burma, also known as Myanmar, where most amphetamine-type drugs in the region are made, but he says the "precursor" chemicals needed to make these drugs are still coming from elsewhere in the region.

"Myanmar (Burma) has no chemical industry of its own, so it does count on imports of precursors from neighboring countries. And there is where my wish has been - the United Nations' wish has been neighboring countries to implement stronger precursor control measures," said Mr. Costa.

The Golden Triangle, which includes parts of Laos, Burma and Thailand, has historically been one of the world's major sources of opium and heroin.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, however, says that China is one the world's major producers of chemicals, including most chemicals used in the manufacture of illegal drugs.

Delegates from more than 20 nations agreed to crack down on the trade of chemicals used in these drugs, while continuing efforts to treat drug addicts and prevent the spread of HIV among heroin users.

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