Drugs claiming ever younger victims

BANGKOK (AFP): When Supabun Kosum took her first methamphetamine tablet she was a curious 18-year-old schoolgirl wanting only “to test” if the little orange pill delivered the euphoria and invincibility her friends raved about. But her schoolyard experimentation with the drug in Thailand’s northern Nakhon Sawan province touched off a seven-year addiction that would consume her life and her income, and eventually land her in hospital. The cheap drug, known in Thailand as “ya baa”, or crazy medicine, has swept the country in recent years. An estimated 800 million tablets were trafficked in the kingdom last year, up from 100 million in 1998. Some three to four million Thais, from a population of 62 million, use the drug and addicts can be found everywhere from primary schools to nightclubs. Authorities say that one in every 10 of the kingdom’s Buddhist monks and novices have fallen prey to the drug and sought treatment at rehabilitation centers. The pills come mainly from jungle laboratories in neighboring Myanmar. They churn out vast quantities of the cheap stimulant, which was used mostly by truck drivers before 1997 when it became popular as a recreational drug. Supabun has spent the past 11 months at Thailand’s largest drug rehabilitation center, Bangkok’s Thanyarak Hospital. “We have about 700 [rehabilitation] patients at this hospital, and about 80 percent of them are methamphetamine addicts,” said hospital director Boonruang Triruangworawat. Nanda Krairiksh, human resources chief for the United Nations Economic and Social Council for Asia and the Pacific, said the average age of first-time users had decreased from age 17, two years ago, to about 13 today. “It cuts across social backgrounds. It’s everywhere – it’s in every school, in every university,” she said, noting that the relapse rate for addicts is about 70 percent. “I think it is a kind of drug that stimulates the human brain… to have better sex, to dance faster,” notes Sandro Calvani, a UN Drug Control Program representative in Bangkok. “It is highly addictive because it provokes such a pleasurable effect.” Methamphetamine addicts and public health sources say that many Thai government officers are active traffickers in the illicit drug. “The government must pay serious attention to this problem because we find that many of the sellers are from the government, such as police, soldiers and politicians,” said Dr Boonruang of Thanyarak Hospital.

Phuket News
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