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Conference in Lao before ASEAN Summit to address the expanding regional synthetic drug market

Phoutsavath Sounthala, Lao Commission for Drug Control

Vientiane (Lao PDR), 30 August 2016
- The synthetic drug market in East and Southeast Asia is continuing to expand, accounting for a large and growing proportion of global methamphetamine production, trafficking and use. Alarmingly, high purity crystal methamphetamine is increasingly available in the region, with seizures up nearly five times over the last 5 years.

In response to the situation, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in partnership with the Government of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR), has organized a regional conference on the synthetic drug market and related national and regional strategies in Vientiane August 30 - 31. Senior-level delegations from countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia, as well as international organizations, partner governments and agencies, are participating. The conference was arranged to coincide with the coming ASEAN Summit in Vientiane which some delegates will also attend for political security community discussions and negotiations.

Located next to major synthetic drug and precursor producers, and large markets, Lao PDR is particularly vulnerable to synthetic drug trafficking and use. The country's rugged mountainous terrain and porous borders are a challenge for law enforcement to secure, while regional integration plans, including the expansion and development of transportation infrastructure, have created opportunities for organized crime to connect production sources and markets, effectively expanding the reach of their business.

"We are dealing with a significant human security challenge that is straining limited government capacities, not only here in Lao PDR, but region wide" said Mr. Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, who pointed to the trends in Lao as a microcosm of the regional situation. "It is quite clear that the current regional response is not effective and needs to be rethought and rebalanced. We are ready to assist, but the situation needs to be candidly discussed and acknowledged, and barriers to cooperation and practical action need to come down. The conference is an opportunity to make headway."

In 2015, seizures of crystal methamphetamine in East and Southeast Asia hit a historic highpoint and exceeded 30 tons, while several countries in the region, including Lao PDR, reported record seizures. Record levels have also been recorded for tablet or pill form methamphetamine known as yaba in countries of the Mekong region. And with several months to go, law enforcement information and cases being reported to UNODC indicate that 2016 methamphetamine seizure levels are likely to increase yet again. At the same time, the region is witnessing an increase in the production and trafficking of new psychoactive substances (NPS) which are synthetic drugs not under the international control that mimic the effects of existing illicit drugs.

Scaling up national plans, as well as cross-border and regional cooperation and capabilities, will be necessary to address the situation. "Over the last five years, there has been a three-fold increase in the number of drug-related arrests in Lao, and law enforcement and criminal justice authorities in our country have been overwhelmed. The health system also has many people, especially youth, being admitted for drug treatment. We need to consider if what we have done has worked, and implement a plan that will start to turn the situation around, and we need a stronger focus on helping our communities and young citizens", said Mr. Phoutsavath Sounthala, spokesman for the Lao Commission for Drug Control (LCDC). "We are looking for ways to increase cooperation with our neighbours and UNODC, and to increase the effectiveness of our drug treatment and health outreach services, as well as our law enforcement and justice responses."

Phoutsavath Sounthala, spokesman for the Lao Commission for Drug Control, Jeremy Douglas United Nations UN UNODC,

"We are working with countries and regional organizations like ASEAN to improve their understanding of the situation, and to advocate for integrating evidence-based interventions into national and regional plans and strategies. And working with different UNODC experts and partners we also help assist with, and advise on, tailored education, public health, law enforcement and justice interventions", said Mr. Tun Nay Soe, East Asia Coordinator for the Global SMART Programme. "Synthetic drugs continue to be a significant challenge for Lao PDR and the region, and the Global SMART Programme offers countries a unique platform to collaborate, and to address knowledge and capacity gaps."

The regional conference has been organized by the UNODC Global Synthetic Monitoring: Analyses, Reporting and Trends (SMART) Programme which supports countries in the region to develop and share data and information on synthetic drug market developments in the region, in partnership with the LCDC of the Ministry of Public Security.