A United Nations report says Asia is becoming a major center for the cocaine trade.
The UN report says Colombia remains the world’s top producer of cocaine. Yet the amount of the drug seized in Asia in 2016 was three times greater than the amount seized one year earlier.
That information comes from the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime.
The drug methamphetamine is growing in popularity in Southeast Asia because it can be made anywhere. Cocaine, however, comes from an agricultural crop, the coca plant.
Officials in countries around the Mekong River seized 65 tons of methamphetamine in tablet and crystalline form in 2017, the UN agency said in a separate report. That amount is a nearly 600 percent increase from the amount seized in 2007.
The latest findings "show that drug markets are expanding,” with cocaine and opium production reaching new highs, said Yury Fedotov, head of the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime.
Irony of drug policy
The apparent popularity of some drugs in Asia stands in comparison to the "hard on crime" position of many Southeast Asian governments. Many of these governments are led by a lone political party, a group of military officers or dictatorial leader.
In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte is known for praising what have been called extrajudicial killings of drug crime suspects. In Vietnam, courts sentence drug traffickers to death almost as much as often as Iran and China, reports Amnesty International. The group also said Malaysia is one of the strongest supporters of the death penalty for drug offenses.
These developments might seem like a mystery for some who expect stronger law enforcement to reduce the use and sale of illegal drugs. But it is a truth that stronger law enforcement often helps the drug trade, says writer Johann Hari. He notes in his book, Chasing the Scream, that when the police take action against illegal drugs, drug prices go up as buyers pay sellers more for the risk.
Criminalization removes weaker competitors and enables the big drug dealers to control the market and hold onto power, he said.
Johann Hari is part of a growing number of people who believe the death penalty does little to stop drug trafficking.
"The drug problem is a complex social issue that demands a multifaceted approach towards a lasting solution," Nymia Pimentel-Simbulan told VOA.
Pimentel-Simbulan is executive director of the Philippine Human Rights Information Center. "PhilRights has always maintained that capital punishment…is a cure worse than the poison," she added.
UN officials offer other possible explanations for the growth of drugs in Southeast Asia and other areas.
The UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime says it has become easier to get onto the dark web, where illegal products, from weapons to drugs, are easy to find.
The secrecy of cryptocurrencies has helped buyers get drugs on websites. At one point in 2017, Vietnam was among the top three countries for cryptocurrency trading. Much of that had to do with investment and other legal business activity.
While the U.S. is trying to cut opioid use among Americans, its actions could affect other areas of the world.
One cause of the U.S. opioid crisis was the change to let some opioids be marketed as non-addictive because they didn't take effect immediately, but had a slow release. That decision enabled American doctors to prescribe the painkillers more widely.
In parts of Asia, the opioid of choice is tramadol. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime says that not only are more people abusing tramadol there. It says Asia is also the main supplier of illegal tramadol seized around the world.
As for methamphetamine, the UN agency said the ease of cooking the drug, instead of growing it, could explain why the drug is popular.
There were 86 drug laboratories discovered in East and Southeast Asia in 2006. Ten years later, the number is above 500, UN estimates say.
As with so much information, it is unclear whether the abuse and sale of controlled substances are increasing -- or if officials are just getting better at finding them.
I’m Susan Shand.
Ha Nguyen reported this story for VOA News. Susan Shand adapted the story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
tablet – n. a small, usually rounded piece of medicine
crystalline – adj. made or shaped like a crystal, a small metal or rock particle
opium – n. a strong illegal drug
penalty – n. punishment
extrajudicial – adj. not involving the legal process
multifaceted – adj. having many different parts
capital – adj. punishable by death
dark web – n. part of the World Wide Web that can only be reach by special computer software
prescribe – v. to tell someone to use a medicine or treatment
cryptocurrency – n. a money that exists only electronically