Meth Production in Golden Triangle Surges, UN Official Says

New precursors for meth production are in use, allowing for a greatly accelerated production of pills, experts say.

Methamphetamine production has quadrupled in Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle region in recent years, the head of the U.N.’s counter-narcotics office in Bangkok told BenarNews on Thursday, saying illegal manufacturers of synthetic drugs have changed ingredients used to start the process.

In the past, enforcement agencies tracked pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, two chemicals used to produce methamphetamine. Now, three precursors – phenyl 2-propanone, caffeine, and propionyl chloride – are being used, said Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia and Pacific representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

“The surge that has come out of the Golden Triangle, we have never seen something like this globally, so quickly,” he said.

“So there are indications that there are very sophisticated criminal activities around chemicals going on inside the Golden Triangle right now,” Douglas said, referring to the area where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar come together.

Douglas, who spoke to BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, on the sideline of a meeting hosted by the Office of Narcotics Control Board of Thailand, said drug enforcers were focusing on the last six or seven years, noting “huge surges in chemical shipments going into Laos” at the same time. 

“You are having four times the acceleration of meth, you are going to have four times the chemical acceleration, one type or another,” Douglas said. “We are not seeing pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, which is extremely strange – those are the base chemicals, best chemicals for meth.” 

“The problem is that the chemicals we usually see going to the drugs productions aren’t being found – pseudoephedrine and ephedrine – but we are finding three precursors that can make them,” he said.

The meeting was held to announce a report on drugs in the region – but officials did not release copies to the media.

Douglas expressed concern for the future, noting there were more drug seizures in January than in the same month in 2020. He said another surge in 2021 could occur unless steps are taken.

“Fundamentally, if you are going to slow the flow of drugs out, you have to slow the flow of chemicals in,” he said.

He said that could happen.

“The hard part now can be political. On the one hand, particularly in Myanmar, where we have special regions but also specialized economic zones along the borders,” Douglas said. “So we have to address the political elements and we have to address the law enforcement and regulatory elements.

“It is going to be a huge change for the region to address their industry problems and we have to get everybody at one table because what we see is organized crime.”

Thai Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin said the report noted the three precursors have been released in large quantities within the Golden Triangle.

“The objective is to seize these precursors. Because the precursor weighing 1 metric ton (1,000 kg) can produce 10 million tablets of methamphetamine,” Somsak said. “This effort to seize the new precursors and chemicals is an important indicator to demonstrate the current drug problem.”

“In the past fiscal year 2020 (ending Sept 2020), we were able to seize 67 percent of the precursors and chemicals and continued to shut down drug production sites,” Somsak said.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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