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June 26, 2012

UN: Amphetamine Trafficking, Usage Up in Asia

by Ron Corben

BANGKOK - The United Nations, in its latest global report on drug use and trafficking, says Asia is facing increasing trafficking and use of amphetamine type stimulants as well as a revival in the production of opium in Burma and Laos. A senior U.N. official says the illicit production and abuse of drugs is a growing regional problem.  
 
In its latest global drug report released Tuesday, the U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime says Asia faces a challenge when it comes to curbing the production and use of amphetamine type stimulants, known as ATS, together with rising opium output and widespread use of cannabis, especially among the region’s youth.
 
Gary Lewis, the UNODC regional representative, says the rising trend of ATS production and abuse in China and South East Asia comes even though global production and use had largely stabilized.
 
Lewis says Asia now accounts for about half of the world’s ATS users.  He also says opium production is also soaring in the region.  
 
“Of some concern to our region ATS, or amphetamine type stimulants. While its stabilized across the globe its increasing very much in our region in South East Asia and in China. There has been a resurgence of opium poppy cultivation over the past five years and soaring production, trafficking, use of  amphetamine type stimulants. And this ought to be of concern to public policy makers,” Lewis said.

The U.N. says there has been a “fourfold” increase in seizures of ATS tablets over recent years, pointing to a sharp rise in output.
 
The report also noted increasing use of synthetic and prescription drugs in Asia,  such as Ketamine, especially in China, including Hong Kong, Malaysia and Vietnam.
 
The report notes in Brunei, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea crystalline methamphetamine is now commonly abused.  In South Asia, both Bhutan and Sri Lanka showed an increase in the use of cannabis and ATS while in Bangladesh ATS use had become “quite widespread” especially in urban areas.
 
Also, some 3.9 million drug users in the region are injecting opiates as well as methamphetamines, raising the risk of the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.   
 
The U.N. says there has been an increase in global potential opium production after a sharp decline in 2010 when disease affected opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, the world’s largest opium poppy producer.
 
In Burma, also known as Myanmar, opium poppy output rose to 610 tons in 2011 from 580 tons a year earlier, with higher output also reported in Laos to 25 tons.
 
In response, the Burmese government has undertaken a program of crop eradication but Gary Lewis of the U.N. says farmers need an alternative crop.  
 
“What is required is a combination of many things. What is not required is an exclusive focus on eradication because farming communities need to survive and they will grow the crop again if they are not provided with an alternative. We have seen this over and over and over again,” Lewis said.
 
The U.N. says just one quarter of all farmers involved in illicit drug crop cultivation around the world have access to development assistance.