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Mekong officials and UNODC discuss the intensifying regional drug situation and the need for new and balanced strategies

Bangkok (Thailand), 10 September 2021
- Senior officials from the six countries party to the Mekong MOU on Drug Control and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have met to discuss the intensifying regional drug situation and discuss drug policy and strategy.

There has been a significant increase in illicit drug production and trafficking the past year in the Mekong despite COVID-19 and associated border closures and disruption of transport networks. Seizures of methamphetamine in the region amounted to approximately 170 tons last year, a 19 per cent increase in relation to the 142 tons seized in 2019, with an extremely high concentration of supply within the lower Mekong. Several countries in the Mekong are currently on-track for increases yet again in 2021.

While the Golden Triangle remains the main source of methamphetamine produced in the region, several changes in trafficking routes have been observed, with significant volumes being trafficked through Lao PDR to Thailand and Viet Nam for both local consumption and transshipment to other markets in Asia Pacific. There are also signs that Cambodia is being used for illicit synthetic drug production, possibly signaling that organized crime are expanding production locations outside the Golden Triangle.

Chaired by the Cambodian National Authority for Combatting Drugs (NACD), the meeting discussed drug control priorities and operational outcomes, and provided a platform to discuss areas for future collaboration. “The Mekong MOU framework has been important for us to enhance cross-border cooperation to address transnational organized crime and the illicit drug trade, and I am encouraged by what we have been able to accomplish together even during the pandemic”, remarked Police General Meas Vyrith, Secretary-General of the General Secretariat of NACD. “With that said, the situation has changed significantly, and it is time to reconsider priorities. We need to balance our law enforcement and justice responses with a significant investment in demand reduction and an effort to help drug users and their families access health and social services, and importantly prevent further expansion of the market.”

Challenges associated with illicit drugs and precursor chemicals in the Mekong region have evolved quickly and have been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic which has created new opportunities for transnational organized crime groups. The surge of methamphetamine has been experienced across all countries, and has been accompanied by a significant increase in use connected to record low wholesale and street prices. “It is clear that a very different regional response is needed”, remarked Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. “It is important that Mekong countries have been able to come together to set priorities, and particularly to rebalance their approach in-line with the recommendations of the UN General Assembly as some are starting to. Preventive education and addressing health, harms and social consequences need emphasis and investment, at the same time that the region increases focus on disrupting organized crime and trafficking including through cross-border operations based on intelligence, addresses the diversion and trafficking of controlled and non-controlled chemicals that can be used to produce illicit drugs, and continues to support opium farming communities to transition away from the drug economy."

Wichai Chaimongkol, Secretary-General of the Thailand Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB), also emphasized the need to address root causes of the drug problem while taking practical steps to enhance levels of awareness, understanding and capacity of frontline officers, stating “we are continuing to work towards improving our collective responses, and this meeting has offered a valuable platform for sharing best practices. Thailand will be opening a new regional counter-narcotics training academy in the coming year and will work with UNODC on related plans, and we look forward to hosting Mekong partner for joint training.”

Click here to learn more about the UNODC Regional Programme for Southeast Asia and the Pacific

Click here to learn more about the Mekong MOU on Drug Control