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Thailand’s drug problem has reached a new high as the supply of methamphetamine pills, or Yaba, has flooded the market and the price of each tablet has dropped to as low as 10-20 baht.
The widespread supply that has flooded the Thai market is stemming from the Golden Triangle, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) told Thai Enquirer.
“The drop in the Yaba price from traditional highs started 3 or 4 years ago as meth started flooding out of Shan State and the Golden Triangle, but it then dropped further and very fast in the past 18 months as armed groups including some of the smaller groups really increased tablet production,” said Jeremy Douglas, the Regional Representative of the UNODC for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
The Shan State is a state in Myanmar which borders northern Thailand, including Chiang Mai. The Golden Triangle is an area that encompasses the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. The state and the area is one of the largest, if not the largest producer, of meth in the world.
“Meth and particularly Yaba can be easily found in every corner of the country [Thailand] – supply is up everywhere, and at this point a tablet is cheaper than a beer,” he said.
The widespread availability of Yaba has been making headlines as drug hauls by authorities have been reported every week of the month.
During the month of July alone, the narcotics suppression police reportedly seized
- July 6th – 4.7 million methamphetamine pills were seized in Lampang province
- July 11th – 1 million pills of methamphetamine were seized in Wiang Chiang Rung district of Chiang Rai
- July 24th – 631 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine (also known as ice) was seized in Songkhla province.
As for the amount of Yaba that are flooding into Thailand, Jeremy said it is difficult to estimate but it could be up to billions of pills per year.
“It is almost impossible to say how much is produced and trafficked, but Thailand last year seized more than 600 million Yaba tablets and if it represents 10% (of supply) it puts the amount trafficking at, give or take 6 billion and if it is 20% then (the trafficking amount would be) 3 billion,” he said.
“But frankly nobody knows except to say billions (of pills) are moving, and the supply is at unprecedented and at ridiculous levels,” he said.
The sharp increase in supply has come with a sharp decline in prices, with the Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan coming out to state earlier this week that Yaba problem has escalated where one pill now costs 10 Baht (28 cent) or 20 Baht (55 cent) per pill against 200 Baht (US$ 5.5) that it used to cost in the past.
Jeremy also confirmed that the average price of Yaba has dropped from around 200 Baht in 2007 to the current price of around 20 Baht in provincial areas, although it could still cost around 50 to 60 Baht in large cities such as Bangkok.
Prawit admitted that the Yaba problem is becoming “catastrophic” and vowed to step up the national anti-drug efforts to ease the problem, including the crackdown on corrupt officials who take bribes from drug smugglers and dealers.
Critics of the government said the drop in the Yaba price is one of the failures of the current administration.
Jeremy from the UNODC says the concentration on cutting the supply of Yaba from Shan State and the Golden trainable area is not going to be enough to ease the problem and greater regional cooperation is required to tackle the issue.
“Trying to address the drug market by only concentrating on stopping the supply is like trying to stop water leaking through a damn with a patch – it is not going to work or not for long,” he said “Major work needs to be done.”
Jeremy said Thailand and the region should discuss the situation and its impact on the region and its people, and the groups and individuals who dominate the drug trade.
“This needs to be done at the highest levels and publicly, and it is time for the region to do what is necessary to make life difficult for organized crime,” he said.
“It sounds easy but it clearly is not or it would have been done, and given the complexity of the situation in Shan and also some other parts of the Mekong it is unlikely that we’ll see things improve for a while,” he said.
In the short term, the UNODC recommended for the region to expand efforts to control chemicals and address chemical trafficking because meth is purely synthetic, Jeremy said. Most of the chemical supply to produce the drug in Shan State is coming from China, India and some from Vietnam.
Other recommendations include identifying and seizing the money generated by organized crime and traffickers, and addressing the demand and social impacts of drug use by scaling up prevention, drug treatment and harm reduction efforts.
“The region needs to agree to do these things collectively and effectively, given how organized crime uses the region and its weaknesses and operates with impunity, and the supply just keeps flowing,” he said.
Jeremy also said Thailand should start working more with Laos on the anti-drug trafficking efforts at the border.
To this, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit met with his counterpart, Laotian Deputy Prime Minister Chansamone Chanyalath, at the 27th Thai-Laos General Border Committee meeting in Bangkok last year and the two countries agreed to have the two countries join forces in checking smuggling of drugs across the border.
However, more could be done in terms of strengthening the border against Yaba traffickers, Jeremy said.