Record meth seizures in Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle

Image courtesy of Khmer Times

In a recent report released yesterday, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) disclosed that East and Southeast Asia are currently grappling with an unprecedented influx of methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs.

This surge is largely sourced from the Golden Triangle, an area where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos converge. Historically recognised for opium cultivation and heroin production, has been transformed into a hotspot for methamphetamine.

UNODC’s Deputy Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Benedikt Hofmann expressed astonishment at the scale of production, emphasising the staggering profits involved.

According to Hofmann, the region’s illicit economies are now inundated with approximately US$80 billion (2.9 trillion baht) annually from the drug trade alone.

The report revealed that methamphetamine seizures in East and Southeast Asia reached an all-time high of 190 tons in 2023, with a significant portion originating from the Golden Triangle.

Notably, a record-breaking 1.1 billion methamphetamine tablets, weighing 98.3 tonnes, were confiscated alongside 90 tonnes of crystal methamphetamine.

While ecstasy seizures remain relatively minor compared to other synthetic drugs, they reached unprecedented levels in 2023, with over 26.7 million tablets seized, primarily sourced from Europe.

Meanwhile, the report highlights the emergence of ketamine, traditionally an anaesthetic, which has found new applications in treating depression and anxiety, as well as recreational use.

A diversification of supply channels, saw ketamine trafficking extending into the Golden Triangle and neighbouring countries in the lower Mekong River basin.

The heartland of the Golden Triangle, particularly eastern Myanmar’s Shan State, serves as the epicentre of methamphetamine production. Meanwhile, its border areas have become notorious for hosting sophisticated organised crime operations, including illegal gambling, human trafficking, and online scams within casinos.

The 2021 military coup only exacerbated the situation, intensifying armed resistance and deepening the country’s instability.

The report recognises the collaboration between Asian organised crime groups and armed factions in the region.

Hofmann raised concerns about the growing trend between drug trafficking and organised crime, emphasising the utilisation of online platforms for money laundering and criminal activities.

The report concluded with a warning about the expansion of drug trafficking routes, which now extend beyond land-based corridors to maritime routes, reaching as far as South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and other Pacific nations.

Hofmann described these trafficking routes as “super-highways” for large drug shipments, many of which evade detection, reported AP.

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Ryan Turner

Ryan is a journalism student from Mahidol University with a passion for history, writing and delivering news content with a rich storytelling narrative.

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