According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Asian drug traffickers are increasingly utilizing sea routes to smuggle methamphetamines out of Myanmar. While also ramping up ketamine production to expand their illicit businesses. The UNODC’s annual report highlighted that meth from Myanmar’s northeastern Shan state. Which is a major production hub, is being transported by boats to bypass stricter patrols on land routes through China and Thailand.
The border area shared by Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand has long been a hub for illegal drug production and trafficking, particularly involving meth and opium. However, increased drug patrols in China’s Yunnan province and along the Thailand-Myanmar border led to a decline in meth seizures by Chinese and Thai authorities in 2022. Prompting drug traffickers to seek alternative maritime routes.
The UNODC’s regional representative, Jeremy Douglas, noted that traffickers continue to transport large volumes of drugs through Laos and northern Thailand. They have also shifted significant supplies through central Myanmar to the Andaman Sea, which has received less attention from authorities.
The report highlighted a substantial influx of Myanmar-produced meth entering Bangladesh and India. Health experts warn that meth use can lead to adverse effects such as paranoia, hallucinations, violent behaviour, and withdrawal symptoms like psychosis.
Challenges Faced by Law Enforcement in East and Southeast Asia
In 2022, law enforcement agencies across East and Southeast Asia seized nearly 151 tonnes of meth. A decrease from the record-breaking 172 tonnes seized in 2021. Wholesale and street prices for meth in the region remained low or declined in 2022.
The UN report emphasized the confidence of powerful regional trafficking networks in their ability to operate without hindrance. Furthermore, it revealed that drug smuggling networks are showing an inclination to diversify their product offerings. Authorities in the region seized a record 27.4 tonnes of ketamine in 2022, a 167% increase compared to 2021. Cambodia. In particular, has emerged as a significant production centre for ketamine. With 13 highly sophisticated laboratories discovered last year.
The report also highlighted a significant rise in seizures of chemicals required for ketamine production. Notably, large mixed shipments of meth and ketamine indicate that organized crime groups are attempting to promote the two drugs together. Aiming to increase demand for the anaesthetic.
The findings of the UNODC report underscore the challenges faced by law enforcement agencies in combating the evolving strategies of drug traffickers in the Myanmar region.