News / Asia

Report Warns of Increase in Amphetamine Production in Burma

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A massive increase in production of amphetamine type stimulants (ATS) in northern Burma has given rise to fears of a surge in addiction across the Southeast Asia region. As Ron Corben reports, the warning came in the release of the United Nation's Office on Drugs and Crime latest World drug report.

The warning came in the latest global drug report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that focuses on heroin, cocaine, and amphetamine-type stimulants.

China, the Philippines, Thailand, and Burma are the key sources for ATS drugs, especially methamphetamines, the report says.

East and Southeast Asia, especially China,  is a key region for the vast majority of drug confiscation. Across Asia, UNODC estimates between 4 million and 38 million ATS users.

In 2009, Burma reported a dramatic increase in ATS drug seizures from just one million pills to 23 million.  In Thailand, the seizure rate rose to 26 million from 22 million in 2008, while in China, the rate surged to 40 million from just 6 million.

Gary Lewis, regional representative for the UNODC for East Asia and the Pacific, says the increase is alarming and highlights conflicts in Burma's northern Shan region.

"These seizures reflect a dramatic increase in production in the Shan State," said Lewis.  "What we are worried about is the nexus of drugs, of weapons, of money that is moving around that region at a time when elections are pending and the political situation is quite fragile."

The threat of conflict in Burma between the military government, which is holding elections later this year, and ethnic Shan is a key factor for a massive rise in production of the amphetamine type stimulants raising fears that it will trigger a growing addiction across Asia.

Burma's Shan state and its special regions near the eastern border with China and Thailand are the main production sources for methamphetamine drugs and a main source of income for the ethnic Shan.

Chinese authorities have already reported large amounts of ATS stimulants entering its southern Yunnan province through its border with Burma.

Lewis says the Burmese government and ethnic groups such as the Wah have been successful in reducing opium production over recent years.  

But he says continued international support is needed to ensure regions remain free of opium.

"Just because an area is poppy free does not mean we should up stake and move off," added Lewis.  "For it to remain poppy free we need to ensure that we continue to provide options to farmers that have given up poppy and are taking a very, very tough hit as a result of that."

Burma also remains the main source for opiates in South East Asia of 330 metric tons although total output has fallen sharply in the past 10 years. Burma's output is dwarfed by the 6,900 tons produced in Afghanistan.

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