North Korean Drug Trafficking Causing Addiction Epidemic

By McCarton Ackerman 04/17/14

While North Korea's hand in drug smuggling is hardly news, a new report shows just how widespread addiction is in the isolated communist nation.

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In the midst of a severe food shortage and the never-ending standoff with South Korea, North Korea is reportedly turning to drug smuggling as a means of filling government coffers.

This is hardly a new phenomenon for the Hermit Nation. A new report from the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, “Illicit: North Korea’s Evolving Operations to Earn Hard Currency,” claims that the country has been engaged in smuggling since the 1970s. Government officials during that time were directly responsible for trafficking drugs and counterfeit cigarettes, but turns out that top leaders in North Korea have also recently had a hand in drug trafficking. In 2004, for example, several high-ranking officials were caught smuggling 150,000 sedative pills into Egypt.

These days, much of the drug trade in North Korea is done via underground markets, as locals desperate for food and money use the country’s heavy international trade restrictions to their advantage. But because access to healthcare is scarce, many natives will also use these potent substances as a cure for various ailments.

This has also led to a reported epidemic of drug addiction throughout the country. A study published in North Korea Review estimated that “at least 40 to 50 percent [of residents] are severely addicted [to crystal meth]," while also indicating that the government itself was directly responsible for some of the meth production. The website DailyNK has also reported that North Koreans are now getting hooked on Amidon, a painkiller known in the west as methadone. A source told the publication that it’s used as a relief from “fatigue” due to “undergoing forced labor” and “secretly given as a gift on holidays.”

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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.