‘Golden Triangle’ cartels turning to synthetic drugs

In this Oct 17 file photo, Thai police show the 508kg of Ice seized from an abandoned pick-up truck to the media. — Bernama photo

BANGKOK: Once famous for heroin and marijuana, the drug-producing region of the ‘Golden Triangle’ now has  become one of the largest producers of synthetic drugs in the world, with turnover estimated to be worth billions.

From ‘Yaba’ (Crazy pills) to the increasingly popular drug among users, Crystal Methaphetamine or ‘Ice’, the drug laboratories in Myanmar’s autonomous Shan State or deep in the Laos’ jungle can manufacture thousands of kilogrammes of the potent drugs in one cycle for markets in South East Asia and beyond.

Putting these drug laboratories out of business and those behind it is not be easy as the ‘Golden Triangle’ cartels run their illicit operation in the ‘shadows’ and highly secretive unlike their Latin and Central American cousins.

“Here (in the Golden Triangle), we don’t have any ‘names’ and ‘faces’ but what I can say is they straddle five or six countries at any one time,” said the Regional Representative for the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Jeremy Douglas during a forum here recently.

Recent drug seizures in Thailand and Myanmar are proof of the super ability of these ‘GoldenTriangle’  drug-labs.

Last week, Thai authorities seized 508kg of ‘Ice’ worth 1 billion Baht (RM125 million) from an abandoned pick-up truck in Nakhon Ratchasima, where the investigators believed the shipment was en route to its transit point in southern Thailand and Malaysia later on.

Methaphetamine seizures in the hundreds of kilogrammes like last week’s has become increasingly common in Thailand in recent years as more people are hooked to the drugs, driving the prices upward.

In Myanmar, the authorities last August made one of the largest seizures when they busted a drug-lab in Tachileik in Shan State, located near the northern Thai province of Mae Sot and seized 30 million Methaphetamine pills and 8kg of Heroin, just in time before the drugs were smuggled into Thailand.

It is almost certain, the seized drugs were destined for the region’s market and others.

As Methaphetamine overtakes opium-based drugs as the preferred ‘products’ of the ‘Golden Triangle’s cartels, the region’s drugs economy has also changed.

According to Douglas, drugs produced in the Triangle’s drug labs are not only to satisfy demand from within the region, but also exported to countries such as Australia, Japan, New Zealand and others, where the price can be ten fold higher.

The profit these cartels derive from the lucrative drug economy are huge he said, adding that “there is a lot of money moving through this region which can finance a lot of activities.”

He did not elaborate what ‘activities’ he meant, but drug syndicates have also been known to be involved in other crimes and illegal activities.

“We are estimating in any given year, the generation of money from Methaphetamine (trade) is about US$30-US$35 billion a year in the region.

“That is bigger than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of several countries in the region,” he said.

He said the region’s drug campaign is playing catch-up with these organised crime syndicates behind the drug trade, who are constantly several steps ahead of the authorities.

Countries in the region, said Douglas, are presented with a massive challenge in their fight against drugs and their task was not made easier by the region’s fragmented response to the problem.

“There is no regional strategy. The situation (in the region) is not good, its dire. The challenge is massive and its truly transnational. There is a need for a regional response,” he said, adding that the authorities seldom target the syndicates but concentrated on the street level instead. — Bernama

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