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September 2022 – UNODC SMART: Crystalline methamphetamine emerging on the illicit drug market of Bangladesh

VIENNA, Austria – September 2022: Global methamphetamine seizures have increased fifteen-fold in the period between 2008 and 2020 from 25 tons to 375 tons. The globalization of the illicit synthetic drug market has also led to the emergence of new routes and manufacturing areas, reflecting the growing threat of transnational organized crime groups. This development puts countries in South Asia at risk, both as supply and destination areas. The region has been identified as a major supplier of pharmaceutical ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which is diverted and used in manufacturing methamphetamine in South-East Asia.[1]   

Illicit flows of methamphetamine tablets, known as “yaba”, from Myanmar westward into South Asia have been increasing for several years, exploiting the difficult to control border areas between Bangladesh, India and Myanmar (see Map below).[2] Recently, more and more crystalline methamphetamine was seized together with “yaba” in Bangladesh, both in combined shipments in border areas. Between January and September 2022, the Border Guard Bangladesh reported already 14 seizure events of crystalline methamphetamine, with single seizure amounts between 1 kg and 9 kg of crystalline methamphetamine, eight of which were combined seizures with “yaba”.[3] This suggests that the existing trafficking channels for “yaba” are to some extent also used for crystalline methamphetamine. According to local media, during raids of locations used for drug trafficking, “yaba” as well as crystalline methamphetamine have been encountered in Bangladesh[4], indicating that the same local distribution channels are used for both forms of presentation of methamphetamine.

Over the past five years, Southeast Asia has experienced a strongly supply-driven expansion of trafficking of both “yaba” and crystalline methamphetamine, which seems to affect more and more countries in South Asia. The authorities in Bangladesh need to be vigilant about the emerging crystalline methamphetamine supply targeting local users, emphasizes Mr. Tun Nay Soe, Interregional Coordinator of the Global SMART Programme, at a recent National Consultation meeting on synthetic drug problems in Bangladesh.[5]

Map: Methamphetamine trafficking flows Mekong region


Source: UNODC, Synthetic Drugs in East and Southeast Asia – Latest Developments and Challenges 2022.

Methamphetamine tablets typically weigh around 90 mg per tablet and contain between 5 and 20 mg of methamphetamine, in addition to caffeine and a range of adulterants. Crystalline methamphetamine, also called “crystal meth”, “ice” or “shabu”, is usually of much higher purity than the tablet form.[6]

Photo: “Yaba” methamphetamine tablets and crystalline methamphetamine