Myanmar Losing Its War on Addiction

Myanmar Losing Its War on Addiction

By Bryan Le 03/18/14

With the government in their pocket, drug dealers and users do their business in the open without fear of reprisal.

Image: 
Shutterstock

If you thought the United States was enduring a heroin epidemic, perhaps look to Myanmar for some perspective.

In Myanmar, opium and heroin addiction is so rampant it's used and trafficked in broad daylight. Police and military come not to arrest and confiscate, but to buy and use right there among the rest of the addicts. In the opium-growing village of Nampakta, officials estimate that roughly half of the population is addicted to dope.

"It's all in the open now. Everyone used to hide in their houses. They'd be secretive," said Daw Li, a mother of two sons, both of whom died of heroin overdoses. "Now the dealers deal, the junkies shoot up. They couldn't care less if someone is watching. Why isn't anyone trying to stop this?"

The Myanmar government won't step in for fear of shattering their new alliances with various ethnic rebel insurgent groups that use the drug trade as their main source of income. But even in villages under government control like Nampakta, government forces have chosen not to exercise control. 

"When I first assumed this post, I said to my bosses, 'We need to take action to stop drugs,'" a senior official anonymously told the Associated Press. "I was told, quite flatly, 'Mind your own business.'"

Residents who have urged government forces to crack down to no avail say that drug dealers either pay off officials or turn them into addicts. With death tolls from overdoses being tallied every week, the situation in Myanmar has grown progressively dire with no hope in sight.