More than a Billion Methamphetamine Tablets Seized Last Year in Southeast Asia

six million amphetamines tablets siezed in Bokeo
Six million amphetamines tablets seized in Bokeo.

A new UN report counts the number of illegal methamphetamine tablets seized last year in South and Southeast Asia at more than a billion pills, the highest number ever recorded.

This underscores the gravity of the region’s illegal drug problem as well as the difficulty of effectively combating drug production and trafficking at such a huge scale.

These drugs are consumed not only in Southeast Asia but also exported to New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, and South Asia. 

The regional representative for Southeast Asia at the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime, Jeremy Douglas, stated that “Production and trafficking of methamphetamine jumped yet again as supply [of methamphetamine] became super concentrated in the Mekong (River region) and in particular Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar.” 

This spike in production has made the drug more affordable and thus more accessible, especially for young people with increased spending power, posing an even worse risk to Mekong communities. Douglas also stated that the cost of a single tablet of meth (or “yaba”) now costs only a small fraction of what it did just 15 or 20 years ago. 

While some significant seizures of the illegal drug have occurred recently—including the record-breaking seizure of 55.6 million pills in Laos—the increasing production of methamphetamine by organized criminals in the golden triangle, Myanmar, and Cambodia is so efficient that these criminals are able to quickly produce tablets to make up for what is taken by authorities.

Laos is particularly impacted by drugs trafficked out of Myanmar, where conflict is only worsening the problem.

Several governments have attempted to put a stop to methamphetamine production by controlling the purchase of drugs used to create it, such as decongestant medicines ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.

However, the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime has found that several regional producers of methamphetamine have discovered ways to create these precursor drugs using widely-available non-controlled substances.