Asia's Rising Meth Problem

By McCarton Ackerman 12/12/12

Crystal meth, often manufactured in Myanmar, is replacing heroin and opium as Asia's biggest drug threat.

Labs in Myanmar produce much of Asia's meth.
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Asia has long been experiencing a boom in cheap amphetamines, with drugs like "shabu" in the Philppines and "yaba" (crazy pills) in Thailand blamed for destroying lives and driving up crime. Now the continent is battling a new, potentially more dangerous threat:a crystal meth epidemic. Seizures of meth in East and Southeast Asia jumped 23% to 8.8 metric tons in 2011, with half of that haul coming from China. Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand also reported seizing at least one ton of the drug that year. Asia now accounts for half of the world's total meth seizures, according to a UN report. "As you know, formerly we only faced drugs like heroin and opium. Now so many new synthetic drugs like methamphetamine are emerging," says Lt. Col. Zaw Lin Tun, deputy director of the Myanmar police force's Central Committee for Drug Control. Most of Asia's meth is manufactured in Myanmar; illicit labs smuggle in raw materials like ephedrine and pseudoephedrine from neighboring countries, then refine them into crystal meth and export it. Myanmar's geography makes it hard to clamp down on the labs, and authorities only raided and shut down a crystal meth lab for the first time last July. "It's a very hilly region, very mountainous and also very remote," says Lin Tun. "But we try our best. We surround the beginning of the trafficking routes, and surround every known transfer site and travel route." Studies suggest that Asia's rising meth trade could soon see more exports sent to Africa and Iran.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.