BANGKOK (Reuters) – Around 1,000 drug barons, mostly in Southeast Asia, are flooding global markets with synthetic drugs such as ecstasy and speed as they switch from heroin and cocaine production, a top United Nations anti-drugs official said.
Sandro Calvani, head of the U.N. anti-drug office for Asia and the Pacific, told Reuters the world’s primary source of amphetamine-type stimulants — known by enforcers as ATS — was Southeast Asia.
He said Myanmar was the biggest producer of speed, which was smuggled mainly to China, Thailand, Australia, Japan and Korea. Indonesia was a haven for ecstasy makers, although not as big a producer as the Netherlands.
“The market of ATS goes by millions of people, not by a small percentage, zero point something of the world population, like heroin or cocaine,” Calvani said in an interview.
U.N. officials say amphetamine factories can be easily hidden, unlike heroin and cocaine production facilities, and it is easy to recruit legal companies to produce precursor chemicals. But no reliable data exists on the quantity produced.
A U.N. report published this week said opium production in the notorious Golden Triangle region where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet is expected to drop to 183,000 acres this year from 235,900 acres in 1996.
It credited government clampdowns and international efforts to promote alternative income sources for thousands of poor farmers.
Calvani said the profits from synthetic drugs were bulging the pockets of a small number of drugs barons and cracking down on the trade had none of the social impact of cutting production of opium, the raw material for heroin.
“There is no poverty-driven amphetamine production. It is just a criminal behavior, driven by greed only, and benefiting very few number of people,” Calvani said.
“The best way to control it is international cooperation and understanding that we are all in the same boat and we should talk to each other instead of finger pointing.”
Thailand, a major conduit for narcotics produced in Myanmar, has in recent years become a big consumer of methamphetamines made by its northern neighbor, with as many as 1.5 million regular users and one billion pills flowing into the country each year.
A bloody 90-day Thai government crackdown on methamphetamine traffickers and dealers launched in February, which cost 1,600 lives, has raised fears the drug flow into the Thai market would now be diverted to other Asian countries. Thailand says the campaign cut methamphetamine use in the country by 90 percent.
Calvani said global demand for drugs such ecstasy and speed was growing because their use did not have the same level of social stigma attached to heroin and cocaine.
“Taking heroin and cocaine is largely perceived as deviant behavior so therefore there is significant social control. People are extremely afraid or ashamed of using those drugs,” he said.
“In the case of amphetamines, there is significant tolerance in the community…users are not deviant people, they are rigorous workers, rigorous students, who dope to perform better. They look for a quick fix.”
Reuters, 20 Jun 2003