Synthetic drugs flowing through region at ‘extreme’ levels

JAKARTA: The synthetic drug supply in East and South-East Asia remains at “extreme” levels and is diversifying, according to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report.

High volumes of methamphetamine continue to be produced and trafficked in and from the region, while the production of ketamine and other synthetic drugs has expanded, said the report.

UNODC’s report also confirmed an expansion and diversification of synthetic drug production and trafficking in the region, while trafficking routes had shifted significantly.

“Criminal groups from across the region also started moving and reconnecting after lengthy pandemic border closures, with late 2022 and early 2023 patterns starting to look similar to 2019,” said its regional representative for South-East Asia and the Pacific, Jeremy Douglas.

Transnational crime groups adapt and try to circumvent what governments do, and last year worked around Thai borders in the Golden Triangle as countries stepped up action to eradicate the trade of illicit drugs.

“They shipped through Laos and northern Thailand and pushed supply through central Myanmar to the Andaman Sea where it seems few were looking,” he said, Bernama reported.

According to the report, methamphetamine seizures in 2022 returned to pre-Covid-19 levels with nearly 151 tonnes seized, particularly in the lower Mekong sub-region.

Intensified law enforcement efforts in Yunnan, China, and along the Thai border with Myanmar resulted in a large drop in seizure levels in China and a slight decrease in Thailand, but led to an increase in the use of maritime routes by traffickers.

South Asia has also been further integrated into the South-East Asian market, with methamphetamine trafficked in high volumes from Myanmar into Bangladesh and rising frequency into northeast India.

Besides methamphetamine, the region seized a record 27.4 tonnes of ketamine in 2022, an increase of 167%, with all countries and territories in the region reporting an increase except Hong Kong, China.

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