The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has warned that drug trafficking syndicates are using new smuggling routes to ship large quantities of methamphetamine and other drugs throughout Southeast and East Asia.
Last year, 151 tonnes of methamphetamine and 27.4 tonnes of ketamine were seized in Southeast and East Asia, marking a 167 percent increase in the seizure compared to 2021.
Organised crime groups in the Golden Triangle region have moved considerable amounts of crystal methamphetamine through the central region of military-controlled Myanmar to the Andaman Sea.
This has allowed drug producers to “massively increase and diversify supply for the purposes of market expansion and domination”.
The most powerful regional trafficking networks are able to operate with certainty and dictate the terms and conditions of the market.
Cambodia has emerged as a key transit and production point for the regional drug trade. South Asia has become more closely integrated into Southeast Asia’s drug supply market, with methamphetamine trafficking in high volumes from Myanmar into Bangladesh and northeast India.
A significant amount of crystal methamphetamine has been transported through the centre of military-controlled Myanmar to the Andaman Sea by organised crime groups in the Golden Triangle, the largely lawless area where the borders of northern Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos meet, according to UNODC.
Additionally, there were the hauls that were still being transported across northern Thailand and Laos.
In a statement, Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC regional representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said that transnational organised crime organisations “anticipate, adapt, and try to circumvent what governments do, and in 2022, we saw them work around Thai borders in the Golden Triangle more than in the past.”
The regime is waging a ferocious military campaign against pro-democracy forces in central Myanmar, and Douglas commented on the new routes via that region by saying, “It seems few were looking” in that specific area.
“Supply within central Myanmar itself significantly expanded, and traffickers quietly started moving product to the coastlines — supply quite literally sailed by on the Andaman Sea,” Douglas writes in the report.
“In other words, the most powerful regional trafficking networks are able to operate with a high degree of certainty they can and will not be stopped, and they are able to dictate the terms and conditions of the market as a result,” he said.
While the Golden Triangle and Myanmar’s Shan state continue to be a centre of synthetic drug production and opium cultivation in the region, organised crime gangs are also protecting themselves against risk by setting up new production centres elsewhere, Cambodia being an example, according to the UNODC.
“Cambodia has emerged as a key transit and, to some extent, production point for the regional drug trade,” Douglas said.
“The discovery of a series of industrial-scale clandestine ketamine laboratories, processing warehouses, and storage facilities across the country has set off alarm bells in the region and with international partners,” he said.
South Asia has also become more closely integrated into Southeast Asia’s drug supply market with “methamphetamine trafficked in high volumes from Myanmar into Bangladesh and, [with] rising frequency, into northeast India”, UNODC said.
“Wholesale and street prices of methamphetamine remained at, or fell to, record lows in 2022 across the region, indicating supply was uninterrupted,” UNODC added.
Regional authorities also uncovered large shipments of mixed methamphetamine and ketamine cargoes, which indicated that crime groups are pushing “the two drugs as a package to grow ketamine demand” in new markets, the UN agency said.
“The ketamine situation in the region in many ways mirrors the supply-driven approach used to expand the methamphetamine market in the mid-2010s,” Inshik Sim, UNODC’s regional coordinator on synthetic drugs, said in a statement.