CHIANG RAI – Thailand’s Drug Suppression police said yesterday that Taiwanese chemists are driving the glut of meth flooding the Mekong region after they tweaked the recipe to dodge controls on other precursor chemicals.
Record hauls of both low-grade yaba methamphetamine tablets and the more potent and expensive crystal meth version – or ice – have been made this year by Thai police.
Experts say the “Golden Triangle” drug lords, mainly in neighboring Myanmar’s self-administered Wa state, have been pumping out more drugs than ever.
It is a trade worth tens of billions of US dollars annually, with made-in-Myanmar meth reaching lucrative markets as far as Australia and Japan.
That oversupply is in part because of new and cheaper precursors, one of Thailand’s most senior drug police said Friday, attributing the change to the expertise of Taiwanese meth cooks working for the drug syndicates.
“They are now using sodium cyanide … a substance used in every factory in Thailand that is not controlled,” said Major-General Watchara Thipmongkol, commander of northern Thailand’s drug force – which includes the kingdom’s portion of the Golden Triangle.
Thailand controls the best meth-making substances – including phenylacetone and cold medicines ephedrine and pseudoephedrine – meaning buyers and sellers across the chain are traced and checked.
With cheaper chemicals they can produce 100 million pills and even if only 20 million pills make it through police checkpoints … it’s worth it, Major-General Watchara said.
But the abundance of the cheaper sodium cyanide has navigated the ban, pushing the price of yaba – a caffeine-cut stimulant known as “crazy pills” – down to around US$3 (100 baht) each in Thailand.
“With cheaper chemicals they can produce 100 million pills and even if only 20 million pills make it through police checkpoints … it’s worth it,” Thipmongkol said.
Taiwanese chemists have long featured in Asia’s meth trade, either as “contract cooks” or running their own laboratories.
Their involvement in the Mekong is “frankly not surprising given the skill sets needed to run meth labs and their history and expertise doing it in other parts of Southeast Asia,” said Jeremy Douglas, regional representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Drug networks are also finding new ways to outfox police, hiding meth in truckloads of fruit in Thailand, or taking advantage of porous borders and underfunded law enforcement in neighboring Laos to run the drugs south.
Drug money riddles the region, yet few major players are taken down in the near daily busts.
Thai police said a local official, Aka Janoo, was arrested with 250,000 pills this week in Chiang Rai, the gateway to Myanmar’s drug producing Wa and Shan states. Yet major seizures of precursor chemicals are rarer.
Myanmar acknowledges a “significant” drug production problem, but says its neighbors must help prevent the inflow of precursor chemicals used to make them.