Covid-19 and meth: Production surged in Asia as economy faltered due to the pandemic, UNODC report says

Methamphetamine seizures in East and Southeast Asia rose 19% from 2019 to a new record high, according to the report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The organization did not put the value of the meth trade in dollars in 2020, but it was believed to be worth between $ 30 billion and $ 61 billion in 2019, according to the UNODC.

“While the pandemic has slowed the global economy, criminal syndicates that dominate the region have quickly adjusted and capitalized. They have continued to aggressively advance supply to bolster the market and demand, ”said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC’s regional representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, in a statement to CNN.

The report found that the cartels weathered a global public health emergency by responding quickly to the changing situation on the ground. These groups started using less regulated chemicals used to make illegal drugs, manufactured narcotics in new locations that were difficult for law enforcement to reach, shipped their products in new, surprising ways, and even found new customers.

Growth was mainly driven by countries in the lower Mekong region – Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar, the report said. Organized criminal groups took advantage of the regional authorities’ priority to contain the spread of Covid-19 and enforce public health measures.

The massive supply of cheap meth, which has kept prices down, “is contributing to increased demand and use in the area,” the report said.

The UNODC found that in addition to Shan State in Myanmar, several major meth producers appear to have set up shop in Cambodia – an area ruled by militias and warlords who have long been accused of being funded by drug trafficking. Authorities in Cambodia dismantled five synthetic laboratories in 2020, four of which were producing meth. It was the first time since 2014 that clandestine meth labs were found in Cambodia.

The traffickers also appeared to be using new ways to transport illicit narcotics and the precursor chemicals used in their manufacture. Laos appeared to be a focus as seizures of meth and precursor chemicals increased. Hong Kong was increasingly used as a transport hub, according to the report. Meth seizures in the semi-autonomous Chinese city increased ten-fold from 2019 to 2020, including a 500-kilogram shipment from Mexico destined for Australia.

“Organized crime groups have been able to further expand the regional trade in synthetic drugs – especially in the upper Mekong and Shan states of Myanmar – by maintaining a steady supply of chemicals to the production areas despite border restrictions that have affected legal border crossings -Border trade, “said Douglas.

2021 doesn’t seem to get any better. Traffickers appear to be taking advantage of months of political instability and violence in Myanmar as armed forces ousted the country’s democratically elected government in a February Coup.

Douglas and other experts fear that drug traffickers could take advantage of the unstable situation in Myanmar.

“When economies collapse, illegal economies typically rise and become more powerful – this is exactly the scenario we fear and anticipate now,” he said.

“Criminals look for conditions to take advantage of, and the law enforcement distraction and security breakdown we experience provide them with the right environment – they thrive on the chaos that legitimate businesses run in front of.”

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