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Rising use and trafficking of illicit stimulants threaten security, health in Asia – UN

Crystal methamphetamine
Crystal methamphetamine

Rising use and trafficking of illicit stimulants threaten security, health in Asia – UN

The rising manufacture, trafficking and use of methamphetamines in East Asia and Southeast Asia pose a growing threat to public health and security in the region, as transnational organized criminal groups become increasingly involved, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said today.

In a report UNODC notes that most of the methamphetamines seized in the region are also manufactured there, reflecting burgeoning production over the past five years.

“The international community has taken its eye off the ball on illicit drug production and trafficking in East Asia,” said Gary Lewis, the representative of the UNODC Regional Centre for East Asia and the Pacific.

“The numbers are heading in the wrong direction. We must be pro-active on all fronts to assist the countries of the region to counteract these threats and prevent East and South-East Asia from again becoming a major illicit drugs hub.”

In addition to threats from regional organized crime groups, the report also draws attention to the growing reach and presence in Asia of transnational organized criminal groups from outside the region.

Methamphetamine trafficking by African groups has been officially reported by China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam. Attempts by Iranian groups to establish illicit manufacturing operations for amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) in Japan, Malaysia and Thailand have also been reported, according to the study.

ATS rank among the top three drugs of use in all 15 countries surveyed in the region. In 10 of those countries, ATS use increased last year. Only Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines and the Republic of Korea reported stable or declining usage.

The use of crystalline methamphetamine has also expanded to countries which had not previously reported it, including Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. The manufacture and use of ecstasy declined in East and South-East Asia, a development consistent with global trends.

“Drug dependence is a chronic relapsing health condition which should be treated in the health sector based on scientific evidence and on each individual's treatment needs,” said Mr. Lewis. “We need more motivational, cognitive-behavioural and case-management approaches. The vast majority of people can be efficiently treated on an out-patient basis,” he added.

Methamphetamine seizures last year reached 136 million pills, a fourfold increase over the 32 million forfeited in 2008. Most pills were seized in China (58.4 million), Thailand (50.4 million), and Laos (24.5 million).

Overall, China, Myanmar and the Philippines remain the largest illicit manufacturers of ATS, with significant increase in production reported in Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysia, according to the report.