East and South-East Asia meth seizures hit record in 2023; Myanmar now leading source of synthetic drugs region, says UN

BANGKOK (AFP): A record quantity of methamphetamine was seized in East and South-East Asia in 2023 as organised crime groups boosted production, the United Nations said Tuesday.

Drug trafficking has affected South-East Asia for decades, with the Shan state in Myanmar the leading source of synthetic drugs in the region.

Much of it is produced in illegal labs in areas controlled by ethnic minority armed groups near the Thai border.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said a record 190 tonnes of methamphetamine were seized in East and South-East Asia last year.

After dropping slightly in 2022, seizures of methamphetamine rebounded in 2023 to the highest ever recorded, UNODC said in its annual report on synthetic drugs in the region.

Thailand is a major transit route for illicit drugs from the so-called "Golden Triangle" region where the north of the kingdom, Laos and Myanmar meet.

The UN office said that large shipments of over a tonne of methamphetamine were seized en route to or on maritime routes throughout 2023 and into early 2024.

Earlier this month, Thai authorities intercepted a tonne of crystal methamphetamine in one of the kingdom's biggest ever single seizures of the illegal drug.

Drugs gangs are changing their recipes to increase their output, UNODC said.

"Organised crime groups are lowering the production costs and scaling up production by using non-controlled chemicals," Masood Karimipour, the organisation's representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement.

Greater production is enabling bigger shipments which are driving down prices, he said.

Despite the large volumes of seizures and high inflation, prices of methamphetamine and ketamine had continued to fall, the office said.

The wholesale price of methamphetamine is now reaching as low as US$400 per kilogram in production areas, it said.

And new synthetic drug products are emerging on the market aimed at young users, the UN warned.

So-called "happy water" sachets and "party lollipops" -- containing unpredictable mixes of substances like ketamine, MDMA and benzodiazepines -- are becoming increasingly available. - AFP

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