Record breaking amount of methamphetamine pills seized in Asia

More than one billion methamphetamine pills were seized in East and Southeast Asia last year, according to a report released by the United Nations. The illicit synthetic drug market is constantly evolving in East and southeast Asia, with every country in the region reporting methamphetamine as their drug of greatest concern, according to the UN.

The UN’s report says most of the 171.5 tons of seized methamphetamine was found in southeast Asia, predominantly in the lower Mekong region which is comprised of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

Most methamphetamine production is concentrated in the Golden Triangle – where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet – predominantly in Shan State in Myanmar.

Methamphetamine is cheaper and more accessible than ever in southeast Asia, where drug cartels have taken advantage of political instability in the area. For example, some border regions of Myanmar became essentially lawless following the February 2021 coup, making drug smuggling into neighbouring countries such as Thailand easier than ever, according to Regional Representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Jeremy Douglas.

In 2010, Thailand was the only country in East and Southeast Asia which reported that methamphetamine was their primary drug of concern. In 2021, China, Japan, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore and the Philippines all reported that methamphetamine was their country’s primary drug of concern.

The illicit drug trade is booming despite southeast Asia being home to some of the world’s strictest drug laws. Some drug offences are punishable by death in Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Seized packages of meth pills are usually “branded.” Most meth seized in Thailand – 76% – comes in packaging branded with the number “999.” Other common brandings include “Y1,” “1,” and “2.”’

Abuse of one type of synthetic methamphetamine – “Ya Ba” or crazy drug – continues to cause significant problems in Thai society. Ya Ba makes headlines daily in Thai media, with the drug often cited as a determining factor in many murder cases and other violent crimes. Ya Ba, which usually comes in red pill form, is methamphetamine mixed with caffeine.

Organised crime groups are increasingly targeting Cambodia for synthetic drug manufacturing. In 2021, an industrial-scale ketamine factory was dismantled by police.

Use of “ecstacy” continues to fall everywhere in southeast Asia, where methamphetamine has taken over as the synthetic drug of choice in the region.


World News


Leah is a translator and news writer for the Thaiger. Leah studied East Asian Religions and Thai Studies at the University of Leeds and Chiang Mai University. Leah covers crime, politics, environment, human rights, entertainment, travel and culture in Thailand and southeast Asia.

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