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