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Ecstasy And Methamphetamine Increasingly Becoming First Choice Drugs For Many In East And South-East Asia

By: UNODC Report Posted: November-29-2010 in
UNODC Report

According to a new UNODC report, amphetamine-type stimulants - or ATS - in particular methamphetamine, are widely used in East and South-East Asia and are now ranked among the top-three drugs of use in every single one of the 11 countries reviewed. Moreover, in some East and South-East Asian countries, ATS have become the primary drug threat, displacing traditionally-used drugs such as heroin, opium or even cannabis.

UNODC's latest ATS report estimates that between a range of 3.4 million and 20.7 million people in the region have used amphetamines in the past year - a sizeable portion of the estimated 14 million to 53 million global users. This is worrying in terms of health and law enforcement.

Speaking on the spread of ATS and the marked implications for health and welfare, Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, noted: "The increased manufacture and use of ATS is a worrying trend and a growing health challenge for the region. While overall development levels in many countries are climbing, and the lives of millions are improving, the spread of ATS use is a sad - and unnecessary - situation and one which must be tackled with immediate urgency."

The report, "Patterns and Trends of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants and Other Drugs: Asia and the Pacific", provides a consolidated review of the current developments with regard to the illicit manufacturing, trafficking and use of ATS in Asia and the Pacific. The study indicates that in recent years these drugs have become an increasingly widespread health and organized crime threat in Asia and the Pacific. In South Asia in particular large licit chemical and pharmaceutical industries offer organized criminal groups an attractive base from where to manufacture and market ATS.

Developed under the UNODC Global Synthetics Monitoring: Analyses, Reporting and Trends (SMART) Programme, the report highlights the spread of ATS - a market which includes amphetamine, methamphetamine, methcathinone, and ecstasy-group substances, and one which generates enormous global revenues. In East and South-East Asia, ATS have become the leading drugs of use, in many cases replacing plant-based narcotics which have previously been the region's drugs of choice.

Another critical issue highlighted in this year's report (as was the case in 2008) is the continued growth in the use and trafficking of ketamine in East and South-East Asia. As a cheaper alternative to drugs such as ecstasy, and with wide availability due to its medical uses, the growth in this drug is a worrying trend. In 2009, 6.9 metric tons of ketamine were seized in the region, up from 6.3 metric tons the previous year. About 85 percent of global ketamine seizures were made in East and South-East Asia in 2009, with the use of this drug reportedly increasing in several countries and territories, with Hong Kong (SAR) now listing ketamine as its primary drug of use.

Regrettably, drug treatment services for users of ATS and other synthetic drugs in many parts of Asia and the Pacific are under-resourced and unable to keep up with the increasing number of ATS users. Most drug treatment services in the region are still aimed at users of heroin, opium and cannabis despite this shift toward ATS use. In Cambodia and Japan for instance, 50 percent of drug users in the country's drug treatment centres receive treatment for methamphetamines, while in the Philippines the figure sits at 59 percent. In Thailand, 82 percent - or more than 4 out of every 5 drug users who received drug treatment in 2009 - were treated for methamphet-amine pill use.

Home to roughly one-third of the world's population, East and South-East Asia's heightened prosperity and accelerated movement of persons, trade and goods has, in recent years, lifted millions out of poverty. Unfortunately, the liberalization and trade and the reduced transportation costs have also led to increased opportunities for criminal organizations, including the production and trafficking of illicit drugs. In adjoining South Asia, where large licit chemical and pharmaceutical industries exist, there is significant demand by organized crime groups for the precursor chemicals used to produce ATS.

Speaking at the launch of the report in Bangkok, Gary Lewis, UNODC Regional Representative for East Asia and the Pacific stated: "Amphetamine-type stimulants pose a growing threat to the region. According to our assessment, the manufacture, trafficking and use of ATS remain at high and worrying levels. We have seen how the ATS problem has expanded in the region. It now poses a serious challenge to law enforcement agencies because the essential chemicals used to produce it are easily sourced. Also, short supply chains from production to consumer make interdiction efforts difficult." He also spoke of the public health burden which ATS use has imposed on society in the region: "We've seen a consistent increase in the number of people seeking treatment for ATS use. The real problem is that drug treatment services for ATS users in most countries are under-resourced. Because of this they are unable to keep pace with the high demand."

The report was simultaneously launched in Tokyo and Bangkok. Unlike plant-based crops that are dependent on factors including climate and geography, ATS drugs can be produced in clandestine laboratories using easily obtainable ingredients and formulas. This ease of establishing facilities has been witnessed with the movement of these locations from traditional production areas such as Western Europe to the more lucrative markets in the developing world.

Background - the Global SMART Programme

UNODC launched the Global Synthetics Monitoring: Analyses, Reporting and Trends (SMART) Programme in September 2008. The Programme seeks to enhance the capacity of Member States and authorities in priority regions, to generate, manage, analyze and report synthetic drug information, and to apply this scientific evidence-based knowledge to the design of policies and programmes. The Global SMART Programme is being implemented in a gradual phased manner, with East and South-East Asia being the first focus region.

Source: UNODC


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