Meth and Politics Mix in North Korea

By Bryan Le 03/02/12

North Korea's meth problem is spreading to China, but neither government is willing to stage an intervention.

chinese meth.jpg
Chinese police seize meth, which is slipping in
from neighboring North Korea.
Photo via

China and its hermetic neighbor, North Korea, long-time political and economic allies, now have ice running between their borders. We're not talking a chilling of relations—we're talking crystal meth, or “bingdu,” as the North Koreans call it. Meth, somewhat unsurprisingly,  is the totalitarian nation's favorite addiction—some sources say 25-50% of the population are users. It's so widespread that North Korean teens apparently even make and give the drug to their peers as a birthday gift—and they're happy to share it with their Chinese neighbors. Chinese border provinces have been hit hard—20 years ago there were only 44 registered drug addicts in one border area, but that number has now reached 2,100. But as big as the problem is, both China and North Korea seem unwilling to talk about the elephant in the room. A Chinese official anonymously tells Newsweek that dealing with the problem could hurt “the good relationship between China and North Korea.” The North Korean government is also seemingly unwilling to crush the meth problem, giving rise to speculation that the government itself is involved in the illicit trade to turn a dime amid a bleary economy. (Meth is also a very effective appetite suppressant, which can be a helpful side-effect in a country battling widespread hunger.) Both countries' attempts to mitigate the damage “bingdu” causes have been limited to arresting junkies, rather than taking on big-time cross-border smuggling. Already facing a growing cocaine problem, South Korea fears that it could be the next nation to be hit by the drug .

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter