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Myanmar Sees Largest Drug Seizure in Decades

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A drug seizure in northern Myanmar that has been quoted as ‘truly off-the-charts’ by Jeremy Douglas of the UN Drugs and Crime Office, saw 200 million methamphetamine tablets (yaba in Thai), more than 500 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine (ice), and 35.5 tons and 163 million liters of precursor chemicals used in the production of illegal drugs.

They also seized almost 300 kilograms of heroin and 3,750 liters of liquid methylfentanyl used in the manufacture of potent synthetic opioid-like fentanyl.

In recent decades, the production of synthetic drugs has pushed illicit factories deeper into Myanmar’s forests, often semi-portable, making it much more difficult to detect them than open poppy fields.

Poppy fields need land and they are labor intensive. They also have a low-yield as they are highly seasonal making the production of synthetic opioids more attractive.

This realization by many drug producers has experts worried saying Asia may continue to switch to synthetic opioids to mimic the chemical structure and effects of poppy-based drugs.

The ability to produce sythetic drugs faster and at a lower cost goes hand in hand with producers choosing an area that is known for being lawless. The Golden Triangle, which borders northern Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, is known for local militias and warlords taking control of the Burmese side of the border and keeping it out of reach from Myanmar’s ineffective government.

The effect of being able to produce synthetic opiods in a land that is untouched by the government has resulted in a large-scale drug trade. The demand for methamphetamine in East and South East Asia is now worth about $61.4 billion a year, according to the UNODC survey.

The toxicity of synthetic drugs such as fentanyl makes it possible to overdose. Laced with other illegal drugs, customers still have no clear idea about what they are taking. Last September, a trio of overdoses in Bangkok was one of the first signs that fentanyl had emerged in the city’s heroin network.

Jeremy Douglas, Regional Coordinator for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Violence, says, “This could be the moment we were afraid that synthetic drugs are in a big way in the area. It is clear that a network of production facilities such as those identified would not be possible without the involvement and financial support of serious transnational organized criminal groups.”

Thirty-three people were detained in the operations that took place between February and April.

SOURCE: BBC | CNN

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