By Minh Nga June 11, 2021 | 04:45 pm GMT+7Synthetic drugs hidden in medicine boxes were found in packages sent from abroad to Vietnam in July 2020. Photo by Vietnam Customs.
The number of synthetic drug users in Vietnam has jumped six-fold since 2017, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime has said in a report.
‘Synthetic Drugs in East and Southeast Asia: latest developments and challenges 2021’, released Thursday, estimated the figure at nearly 190,000 last year.
It said the synthetic drug market in East and Southeast Asia has proven highly resilient to the impacts of the Covid-19 outbreak, with production and trafficking surging in 2020, and methamphetamine seizures increased substantially despite the pandemic.
“Organized crime groups have been able to continue the expansion of the regional synthetic drug trade, in particular in the upper Mekong and Shan State of Myanmar, by maintaining a steady supply of chemicals into production areas despite border restrictions that have impacted legitimate cross-border trade,” Jeremy Douglas, UNODC regional representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said at an online event held to release the report.
“While the pandemic has caused the global economy to slow down, criminal syndicates that dominate the region have quickly adapted and capitalized. They have continued to aggressively push supply in a conscious effort to build the market and demand.”
Approximately 170 tons of meth were seized in the region last year, a 19 percent increase from 2019.
Thailand led with 58 tons, followed by Myanmar with over 49 tons, Malaysia with 13.7 tons, Indonesia with eight tons, Laos with 7.2 tons, and Vietnam with more than four tons.
There were “notable changes” in trafficking routes with “significant volumes” of meth being trafficked through Laos to Thailand and Vietnam for both distribution and transshipment, and an “extremely high concentration of supply” within the lower Mekong countries of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The report also warned that the crystal methamphetamine supply surge has been accompanied by a rise in use connected to record low wholesale and street prices.
Thailand reported a 10-fold increase in the number of users between 2016 and 2019, and price data reported by Cambodia and Malaysia showed a decrease in 2020.
“The drop in the price of methamphetamine in Southeast Asia is a serious problem, clearly showing supply reduction strategies have not worked as intended,” Inshik Sim, UNODC regional coordinator, said.