UN: Heroin and Meth Top East Asian Drug Problems

Published: 18 April 2013


Heroin represents the main opiate problem in East Asia, while methamphetamine popularity is rapidly on the rise in the region, a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said

Heroin, which has an estimated 3.3 million users in the region, is imported largely from Myanmar and Afghanistan, according to the report. Heroin from Myanmar travels to China, often carried by couriers from ethnic groups that live along the China-Myanmar border. From China, the drug is redistributed throughout the region. Heroin from Afghanistan, which has been exported in greater amounts as demand in the region has risen, travels by more complex air, sea, and land routes, the report said. Transnational crime groups based in China, Nigeria and Pakistan have all played roles in the transport, distribution, and sale of Afghan heroin; China and Malaysia serve as the largest hubs for Afghan heroin distribution. While reliable data is difficult to obtain, best estimates put the value of the heroin trade in the region at around $16 billion dollars in 2011, the report said.

Another concern in the region is methamphetamine. Myanmar is a major production center for the drug. Meth is most often trafficked to China and then distributed in the region. Labs for making crystal meth, a more addictive form of the drug, have been found in China, Indonesia and the Philippines. Meth has started to displace heroin as the drug of choice in parts of China. Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam have some of the highest meth abuse rates in the world, the report said.

Particularly popular in those countries is the yaba pill, which is a mixture of meth and caffeine. Between estimated yaba and traditional meth sales, the UN report estimated that the methamphetamine market in East and Southeast Asia was worth around $15 billion in 2010.