BANGKOK - Production of methamphetamine is skyrocketing in Southeast Asia, with prices dropping and usage expanding, the U.N.'s anti-drug agency said Monday.
Even as seizures of the drug known as speed, ice and "ya ba" in its various forms reached a record high last year, street prices have dropped, indicating increased availability, said a report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The agency said methamphetamine has become the main drug of concern in 12 out of 13 East and Southeast Asian countries, up from five a decade ago. The only exception was Vietnam, where heroin is considered the major problem.
In Thailand alone, 515 million methamphetamine tablets were seized in 2018, 17 times the total amount of the drug seized a decade ago in all 13 countries combined, the U.N. agency said. Much of the supply comes from neighboring Myanmar.
"Data on seizures, prices, use and treatment all point to continuing expansion of the methamphetamine market in East and Southeast Asia," said Tun Nay Soe, the agency's inter-regional program coordinator.
The report warns that organized crime groups in the region have stepped up their involvement in making and trafficking methamphetamine and other drugs in the Golden Triangle, the region where the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet that has historically been a major source of opium and heroin.
It said the drug market in East and South-East Asia had shifted from such opiates to methamphetamine since the latter part of the 2000s.
"The shift to methamphetamine has affected even countries traditionally known to have a relatively large market for heroin, such as China and Malaysia," it said. "In Malaysia, the number of methamphetamine users detected by law enforcement authorities surpassed that of heroin users for the first time in 2017."
In another indicator of the methamphetamine epidemic, medical treatment related to its use dominated the number of drug-related admissions in several East and Southeast Asian countries, the report said.
The drug agency warned that other synthetic drugs were also gaining traction in Asian markets.
"Potent synthetic opioids (e.g. fentanyl), implicated in fatalities in other parts of the world, are being identified by some countries in the region," it said. Fentanyl is one of a number of opioids responsible for growing deaths of drug users in the United States.
"Aside from methamphetamine which is getting most of the attention because of the surge in seizures and street price drops, synthetic opioids and other drugs have also been found across the region," said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC regional representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.