Expanding synthetic drugs market continues to impact in East and Southeast Asia and Oceania

Record seizures and rising use of methamphetamine in the region highlight the need for a integrated response

Bangkok (Thailand), 26 May 2015
- The demand for synthetic drugs in East and Southeast Asia and Oceania continues to rise, while rapid economic integration is creating new opportunities for transnational criminal groups to expand the illicit drug trade, warns the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in a new report released today by the Global Synthetics Monitoring: Analyses, Reporting and Trends (SMART) Programme.

The report "The Challenge of Synthetic Drugs in East and South-East Asia and Oceania: Trends and Patterns of Amphetamine-type Stimulants and New Psychoactive Substances 2015" analyses recent trends and developments of the synthetic drugs market in the region, comprising both amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) and new psychoactive substances (NPS), which are designed to mimic the effects of substances under international control. The report also highlights the harmful impact of the illicit trade in synthetic drugs on development and the evolving challenges for governments in their efforts to respond to the threat.

East and Southeast Asia and Oceania is one of the world's largest synthetic drug markets, and is dominated by methamphetamine in crystalline or ice and tablet (referred to as yaba or yama locally) forms. The illegal synthetic drug trade in the region is also expanding and diversifying with increasing availability of NPS. Moreover, the availability of precursor chemicals in the region increases the risk of diversion for methamphetamine production.

Information on seizures and use indicate that the market for methamphetamine is expanding, say government experts. Methamphetamine seizures in East and Southeast Asia and Oceania have almost quadrupled from about 11 tons in 2008 to almost 42 tons in 2013. Over this period, crystalline methamphetamine seizures in the region almost doubled, to about 14 tons in 2013, while methamphetamine tablet seizures have risen at a more rapid rate resulting in an eight-fold increase, from about 30 million tablets seized in 2008 to more than 250 million tablets seized in 2013. "This significant increase might be partly the result of effective law enforcement measures, but also points to expanding production and trafficking to and through the region" said Mr. Tun Nay Soe, Programme Coordinator for the Global SMART Programme at the report launch today. "Unfortunately, the preliminary data we have received for the past year indicates that supply and demand have continued to rise for both types of methamphetamine."

In 2013, illicit synthetic drug production, predominantly methamphetamine, was detected in most countries in East and Southeast Asia and Oceania. While regional expansion in methamphetamine production meets most of the supply needs of the market, international drug trafficking networks from Western Asia, South Asia, North America, and Western Africa, are also targeting the region.

"Increased cross-border trade, regional integration and reduced border restrictions in Southeast Asia have also created opportunity for increasing the cross-border trafficking of drugs and the precursors needed to make them", said Mr. Jeremy Douglas, Regional Representative of UNODC in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. "It is undeniable that many positive economic opportunities and benefits are being seen, but the activity of transnational criminal groups involved in the region's synthetic drug trade is also increasing, posing a challenge for governments and regional organisations like ASEAN to develop an effective coherent response."

The report also notes a presence of ecstasy in East and Southeast Asia, with the region possibly becoming an emerging driver of the global market for, as both a consumer market and a transit location. In the last few years there have also been significant seizures of ecstasy precursor chemicals in the region. The ecstasy market has also diversified in recent years with the presence of NPS in ecstasy tablets.

Until recently, the NPS market in the region has been dominated by the presence of ketamine, kratom and, more recently, khat. However, the number of NPS reported in East and South-East Asia and Oceania has increased significantly, from 34 substances in 2009 to 137 as of November 2014.

"Given that the risk profile of NPS are not yet fully understood, their proliferation poses unforeseen health and public safety risks in the region," said Mr. Justice Tettey, Chief, UNODC Laboratory and Scientific Section. "In the absence of control measures and appropriate risk communication strategies for these substances in many countries, the challenges for law enforcement and public health are significant."

Background - the Global SMART Programme
The UNODC report, The Challenge of Synthetic Drugs in East and South-East Asia and Oceania: Trends and Patterns of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants and New Psychoactive Substances 2015 was produced by the UNODC Global Synthetics Monitoring: Analyses, Reporting and Trends (SMART) Programme.

UNODC launched the Global SMART Programme in September 2008. The objective of the Programme is to enhance the capacity of Member States and relevant authorities to generate, manage, analyze, report and use synthetic drug information, in order to design effective, scientifically-sound and evidence based policies and programmes. The UNODC Global SMART Programme receives financial support from the Governments of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.