By The Nation
THE REGION’S illicit drug industry may benefit from economic integration in Southeast Asia and its improved transport systems, United Nations experts warned yesterday.
They said expanding transport networks would cover all parts of the region including the Golden Triangle – a major plantation area for opium and centre of the new transport activity.
The triangle connects Myanmar, Thailand and Laos.
“We need to act quickly. The Golden Triangle is the geographic centre of the Greater Mekong Sub-region, and plans are well underway to expand transport and infrastructure and lower trade barriers and border controls across the region,” UN official Jeremy Douglas said.
“The organised criminal networks that benefit from Southeast Asia’s illicit drug trade are well-positioned to take advantage of regional integration,” said Douglas, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime regional representative in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
Southeast Asia is the second-largest producer of opium in the world. It is also a growing market for amphetamine-type stimulants, especially methamphetamine, the top illicit drug threat in East and Southeast Asia. Seizures of methamphetamine reached record highs in 2012, according to the UN.
UN officials in Bangkok, expressing concern about an acceleration in the regional drug trade, urged governments to reconsider drug control priorities, given the huge treatment cost. Every dollar spent on prevention saves up to US$10 (Bt325), they said.
“Rapid regional integration provides ample incentives for international drug-trafficking syndicates,” said Douglas. “The UN is concerned that sufficient thought has not been given to the implications of greater regional integration – and how it makes the connecting of chemicals, drugs and markets easier and more efficient than ever before.
“Governments should consider that one of the unintended consequences of economic integration and looser national controls on chemical exports is that criminal organisations may gain access to the legitimate supply chains of the chemicals needed to manufacture illicit drugs and then more easily export these ‘precursor’ chemicals to drug-making markets abroad.”
Precursor chemicals – for the making of heroin or methamphetamine – are often smuggled in from nearby countries.
While Asia is the biggest source and market for precursor chemicals used to make illicit drugs, neither Afghanistan nor Myanmar, the world’s No 1 and No 2 heroin producers, produce acetic anhydride, the chemical necessary to produce heroin from raw opium, said Douglas.
The Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB)’s Annual Report 2013, released yesterday, showed that East and Southeast Asia reported high levels of injecting drug abuse, accounting for 27 per cent of all injecting drug users worldwide.
China alone reported having nearly 1.3 million registered opioid abusers in 2012 – an increase from 1.2 million in 2011. This increase in demand in China may be driving the increased demand for heroin produced elsewhere in the region.
The report also showed that only one in six problem drug users worldwide receives the treatment he or she needs, at a global cost of about $35 billion per year.
“Investing in prevention and treatment is a wise choice as it can lead to significant savings in healthcare and crime-related costs and alleviate the suffering of drug-dependent persons and their families,” said Raymond Yans, the president of the INCB.