Methamphetamine use on the rise in Việt Nam: UNODC

June 11, 2021 - 08:00
The COVID-19 pandemic has failed to slow down the regional synthetic drug market, with production and trafficking surging last year, according to a report. 
The Kon Tum Province Border Guards seize a man for illegally transporting one kilogramme of methamphetamine in Bờ Y Commune, Ngọc Hồi District. — VNA/VNS Photo Cao Nguyên

BANGKOK — The number of methamphetamine users in Việt Nam increased by nine times from 2016 to 2020, a new report has found.

The UN report also found the COVID-19 pandemic has failed to slow down the regional synthetic drug market, with production and trafficking surging last year. 

The report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found that methamphetamine seizures in East and Southeast Asia increased substantially despite COVID-19.

“Organised crime groups have been able to continue the expansion of the regional synthetic drug trade – in particular in the upper Mekong and Shan State of Myanmar – by maintaining a steady supply of chemicals into production areas despite border restrictions that have impacted legitimate cross border trade," said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

“While the pandemic has caused the global economy to slow down, criminal syndicates that dominate the region have quickly adapted and capitalised. They have continued to aggressively push supply in a conscious effort to build the market and demand,” he said.

The report, titled 'Synthetic Drugs in East and Southeast Asia: latest developments and challenges 2021', found seizures of methamphetamine in the region amounted to approximately 170 tonnes last year, an 19 per cent increase over the 142 tonnes seized in 2019.

In addition, there were notable changes in trafficking routes with significant volumes of methamphetamine trafficked through Laos to Thailand and Việt Nam for both market distribution and transshipment, and an extremely high concentration of supply within the lower Mekong countries of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Việt Nam where 71 per cent of the East and Southeast Asia total was seized. 

The report also warned that the crystal methamphetamine supply surge has been accompanied by a rise in use connected to record low wholesale and street prices.

In Việt Nam, the number of reported methamphetamine users increased by nine times between 2016 and 2020. Thailand has also reported a 10-fold increase in the number of crystal methamphetamine users between 2016 and 2019, and price data reported by Cambodia and Malaysia showed decreases from 2019 to 2020 as well.

“The drop in the price of methamphetamine in Southeast Asia is a serious problem, clearly showing supply reduction strategies have not worked as intended," noted Inshik Sim, UNODC Regional Coordinator for the Global SMART Programme.

“At the same time, only very small quantities of controlled precursors are being seized, which can be attributed at least in part to the use of pre-precursors and non-controlled chemicals.”

“Forensics have become more and more important as the synthetic drug markets of East and Southeast Asia have adapted and evolved,” said Justice Tettey, Chief of the UNODC Laboratory and Scientific Services.

He also noted that “safe disposal of seized drugs and chemicals is a growing challenge that also needs attention – the impact in drug-producing areas is profound.” — VNS