Ecstasy and Methamphetamine Increasingly Becoming First Choice Drugs for Many in East and South-East Asia According to New UNODC Report
VIENNA/TOKYO/BANGKOK, 25 November - According to a new UNODC report, amphetamine-type stimulants - or ATS drugs - in particular methamphetamine, are widely used in East and South-East Asia and are now ranked in the top three drugs of use in all countries in the region. In many 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 notes that between 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 and a worrying concern 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 tons of ketamine were seized in the region, up from 6.3 tons the previous year. About 85 per cent 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 per cent of drug users in the country's drug treatment centres receive treatment for methamphetamines, while in the Philippines the figure sits at 59 per cent. In Thailand, 82 per cent - or more than 4 out of every 5 drug users who received drug treatment in 2009 - were treated for methamphetamine 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 Tokyo, Sandeep Chawla, Director of Policy Analysis and Public Affairs at UNODC stated: "By being able to produce ATS in their basements and backyards, criminals are presented with new opportunities which must be denied. While the production and consumption centres of traditional drugs such as heroin and cocaine are often separated by large geographical distances, synthetic drugs can be manufactured almost literally in the kitchens of users. This means that there is no long trafficking route along which law enforcement can intercept the drugs. ATS thus pose very different challenges for law enforcement."
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.
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