Countless metric tons of precursor chemicals from China to make meth are poring into the Golden Triangle, according to the ONCB, Thailand’s Narcotics Control Board.
The harsh, ungoverned frontiers of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to what many consider the world’s greatest methamphetamine trade, orchestrated by the drug syndicates in the Golden Triangle, which straddles China, Thailand, and Laos.
Countless metric tons of precursor chemicals are transported into the Golden Triangle. The drugs, primarily meth pills (yaba), extremely addictive crystal meth (ice), and heroin, are transported back across the same borders.
According to Thailand’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board, advanced production technology is also one of the main reasons why methamphetamine and crystal meth are so inexpensive and plentiful in Thailand.
Wichai Chaimongkol, Secretary-General of the ONCB, stated that a very fast hydraulic press could create up to 288,000 meth tablets per hour, compared to the 2,700 tablets produced by older hydraulic press.
“That is more than 100 times prior output,” he stated in response to media reports about the rock-bottom pricing of street-purchased meth discovered in recent crackdowns.
Another factor is legal flaws in regulating precursor chemicals that are critical ingredients in meth production.
Because of the severe restrictions on pseudoephedrine, a major ingredient in the production of meth and crystal meth, sodium cyanide, a deadly substance frequently used in mining and pesticide manufacturing, is now being utilized instead.
“Well over 1,000 tons of sodium cyanide have been legally imported into Thailand from China so far this year,” he claimed, “with an estimated 819 tonnes of it moving on to supply drug-making ethnic minority groups in Myanmar’s Shan State.”
Because 1 kilogramme of sodium cyanide, which costs less than 100 baht presently, can be converted into 22,000 meth tablets or 0.5kg of crystal meth, those 810 tonnes of sodium cyanide might yield 16.1 billion baht in meth tablets, he claimed.
Another problem, he claims, is social media, which has also aided in the sale of illegal narcotics in Thailand.
Unlike in the past, when shipping 1kg of meth, or around 10,000 tablets, cost around 30,000 baht, now 1kg of meth could be shipped by parcel post to a buyer for only 80 baht.
Once a deal is solidified through social media, payments are made online.
The ONCB Secretary-General claims that the ease of drug dealing in the social media era has increased the number of sellers while the demand for the drug has not increased significantly, creating a massive drop in the price of meth pills.
Over Supply Driving Down Meth Prices
According to the Thai Office of Narcotics Control Board, Thailand has confiscated approximately 330 million yaba tablets since Myanmar’s coup, doubling the quantity collected from February to August last year. So far, ice seizures have been consistent at roughly 15 metric tons, according to the ONCB.
Oversupply is driving down drug prices, with officials reporting that yaba tablets can now be purchased for as little as $1.70 in Thai border towns, while the price of a gram of the more addictive and potent ice has been cut in half to $45.
“If organized crime and their militia partners continue to push the limits of the drug trade in the Shan State, there will be consequences for Mekong neighbours like Thailand and Laos – and perhaps even Vietnam and Cambodia,” said Jeremy Douglas of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“It can’t just keep on like this without more severe regional spillover and consequences,” he said.
Myanmar’s military coup is bad news for Thailand, whose roads, ports, and airports have made it a regional hub for drug trafficking.
Authorities have increased security along the rugged northern border zone bordering Myanmar, but this has redirected trafficking eastward, allowing drugs to enter Laos.
Huge quantities are transported across the Mekong River and into Thailand’s northeastern province, where the coronavirus has ravaged incomes, leaving smuggling organizations with a large pool of couriers for their illicit commodities.
Many adults who lost their employment due to the pandemic have turned to drug trafficking, and children who were pushed out of school have also been involved in the drug trade as sellers and consumers.
Because there are more inspections along the northern border, drugs from Myanmar are transported via Laos and into northeastern Thailand instead.
According to experts, organized crime syndicates are degrading the threadbare rule of law with corruption across Southeast Asia.
“The drug situation in the Golden Triangle is becoming more complex, and the region’s drug economy is becoming more powerful and influential,” said Douglas of the UNODC.