The production of synthetic drugs from the Golden Triangle in Northern Thailand is continuing to hit record highs despite the covid-19 pandemic. Prices have fall to record lows in Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia.
Australia and New Zealand have also reported an increase in synthetic drug use as prices drop.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) representative Jeremy Douglas, says “it is hard to imagine that organised crime have again managed to expand the drug market, but they have.”
While the world has shifted its attention to the COVID-19 pandemic, all indications are that production and trafficking of synthetic drugs and chemicals continue at record levels in the region.” Especially the Golden Triangle in Thailand’s far northern region.
Inshik Sim, a UNODC Illicit Drugs Analyst, told Reuters that Bangkok or Manila are the biggest markets for the substance in Southeast Asia. This, he said, showed there had been “no impact on its availability in the market”.
The pattern of drug trade on the consumer level however has shifted. Its moved to online social media platforms, such as Facebook, Line App and Twitter as the coronavirus limits people’s movement, Thailand’s Deputy Secretary-General of the Narcotics Control Board Paisith Sungkahapong said.
“We have found the increase in the online drug trade via social media. We also found a lot of drugs being conceal and transport via the postal and private services,” he said.
Synthetic Drug production increasing in Golden Triangle
In recent years, transnational crime groups based in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau have expanded synthetic drug production in industrial-scale labs in the Golden triangle.The Golden Triangle encompasses Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos. They syndicates have also widened their distribution network as far as Japan and New Zealand.
As supply has surged and prices have fallen, however the purity of the drug has increased, UNODC Jeremy Douglas says. Asian crime syndicates produce both potent crystal meth and less expensive meth pill. The meth pill is mixed with caffeine and known as yaba. The“crazy drug” in the Thai language.
Meanwhile opium cultivation and heroin production in the Golden Triangle has been declining. Above all as there has been a “steady emergence” of dangerous synthetic opioids. Fentanyl production has been on the increase as demand grows in East And Southeast Asia.
“The illicit drug market here is at a tipping point. Synthetic opioid production appears to be migrating into places with deep governance problems like the Golden Triangle,” says Douglas.
“Southeast Asia could well become a source of synthetic opioids for other parts of the world. Especially as these substances get mixed into or displace part of the regional heroin supply.”
Other synthetic drugs such as ecstasy, ketamine and cannabinoids are also increasingly found, the UNODC report said.