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Amphetamines are growing health threat

30th November 2010

Illegal synthetic drugs like amphetamines are replacing opiates across East and Southeast Asia, according to a recent United Nations report, where they present critical emerging health threats.

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The report found that methamphetamine was becoming especially popular in almost every country in East and Southeast Asia, with up to 20.7 million potential users last year, and highlights the role of poverty in the shift from plant-based illicit drugs to lab-manufactured ones.

The study also found that Burma, the region's main source of methamphetamines, depends on raw materials smuggled in from China and Thailand, where key ingredients are cheap to manufacture and easy to buy.

Burma's military also appears to be linked with the trade in the drugs, and over one billion tablets are produced there illicitly every year.

Economic liberalisation and trade, while raising local incomes, has also encouraged the development of criminal organisations.

As a result, international organised crime groups, particularly those from Iran and West Africa, have stepped in and become involved in selling the drugs.

Iran and Pakistan are preparing to co-operate with each other to secure the borders around both states, hoping to stop the flow of smuggled drugs and illegal immigrants between their countries.

But amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) are distributed as pills, powder, or crystals, and their production does not depend on geography or climate.

Sandeep Chawla, the UNODC policy analysis director, said that criminals were presented with new opportunities since they could manufacture the drugs almost anywhere, and that there was no long trafficking route along which law enforcement could intercept the drugs.

Yury Fedotov, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that the increased manufacture and use of ATS was a worrying trend and a growing health challenge for East and Southeast Asia.

He said he believed the situation was a sad one, and that it should be tackled with immediate urgency.

According to the official UN report, drug treatment strategies in the region are not suited for the emerging class of synthetic substance abusers, being geared instead toward heroin users and other opiate addicts.

Ketamine, a drug usually used in veterinary medicine, is also being used recreationally in East and Southeast Asia.

In 2009, 6.9 tonnes of the drug were seized in the two regions, up from the previous year and accounting for 85% of the global total of seizures.

In Hong Kong, ketamine has become the most popular illicit drug.

 

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