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The UN anti-narcotics agency on Thursday sounded the alarm over soaring production and consumption of heroin and new designer drugs that are again making Southeast Asia a major drugs hub.
“The international community seems to have taken its eye off the ball on drug control in Southeast Asia,” said Yury Fedotov, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The agency’s World Drug Report 2011 warned that Burma has become a prime source of synthetic narcotic methamphetamine which it said is “sweeping” across East Asia.
A record 15.8 tons of methamphetamine pills were seized in 2009, the latest year for available figures, up by more than one third from 2008.
Most of the drugs came from or were seized in Burma, which UNODC called “one of the primary sources of methamphetamine pills in Southeast Asia.”
Burma has also seen a surge in opium poppy production to make heroin, according to the agency.
While Afghanistan remains the world’s top opium producer, a plant blight drastically cut its production in 2010 to an estimated 3,600 tons.
The agency cultivation in Burma rose by 20 percent in 2010 and with Afghanistan’s decline, its share of global opium production has risen from five percent in 2007 to 12 percent last year.
The world opium market is now said to be valued at more than $US68 billion a year.
Fedotov said that Southeast Asia – and particularly the so-called “Golden Triangle” region where Burma, Laos and Thailand meet – was again a big concern.
“The gains we have witnessed in the traditional drugs markets are being offset by a fashion for synthetic ‘designer drugs’ mimicking illegal substances,” said the agency’s chief.
“The Golden Triangle is not just about opium anymore; it’s a business that caters to consumers. The international community seems to have taken its eye off the ball on drug control in Southeast Asia.
“We have to be proactive on all fronts before the region again becomes a major drugs hub.”
The UN said that governments and experts in Asia had reported a “significant” increase in use of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) over the past year, particularly of methamphetamine.
“Government experts have reported that methamphetamine ranks among the top three illicit drugs consumed in several countries in this region, including China, Japan and Indonesia,” said the report.
UNODC said the first clandestine ATS laboratory in India was found in 2003 but more have been uncovered since. “Attempts at illicit ATS manufacture have also been reported from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
“South Asia has become one of the main regions used to obtain ephedrine and pseudoephedrine for the illicit manufacture of methamphetamine.
“India is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of precursor chemicals and Bangladesh also has a growing chemical industry,” warned the report.