Nearly 151 tons of methamphetamine was seized
throughout Asia in 2022 as traffickers regularly switched up smuggling methods in an attempt to evade law enforcement, particularly in the lower Mekong subregion, where drug chemical shipments have been seized recently in large amounts. File photo by Daniel McCulloch/European Pressphoto Agency
June 2 (UPI) -- The synthetic drug trade throughout Asia was accelerating at record pace as methamphetamine traffickers sought to expand their global enterprise in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report from the United Nations.
The report -- "Synthetic Drugs in East and Southeast Asia: latest developments and challenges 2023" -- which was published Friday by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, says meth seizures in East and Southeast Asia reached historic levels last year as crime syndicates turned to new smuggling routes to move more massive amounts of contraband to the streets.
South Asia was also beginning to witness a boom in methamphetamine trafficking, with shipments traveling from Myanmar into Bangladesh and also into northeast India, while wholesale and street prices reached record lows in 2022, indicating a steady and uninterrupted supply, the report said.
"High volumes of methamphetamine continue to be produced and trafficked in and from the region while the production of ketamine and other synthetic drugs has expanded," the agency said in a statement announcing the research.
Cartels have infiltrated lawful global commercial distribution networks, which had served to boost criminal operations worldwide.
Nearly 151 tons of methamphetamine was seized throughout Asia in 2022 as traffickers regularly switched up smuggling methods in an attempt to evade law enforcement, particularly in the lower Mekong subregion, where drug chemical shipments have been seized recently in large amounts.
Authorities have stepped up drug enforcement efforts in Yunnan, China, and along the Thai border with Myanmar, resulting in a huge decline in meth seizures throughout China and a slight decrease in Thailand, the report notes. But in response, traffickers have begun using maritime routes for large shipments.
Asian authorities also seized a record 27.4 tons of the hallucinogenic drug ketamine in 2022, while the report notes that some of the busted shipments were found bundled with methamphetamine, indicating the cartels were pushing the two drugs as a package deal to raise the demand for the lesser known substance.
The analysis stood as confirmation that organized crime groups were still flourishing despite increased law enforcement efforts to curtail the expansion and diversification of the synthetic drug trade across the world.
"Transnational organized crime groups anticipate, adapt and try to circumvent what governments do, and in 2022 we saw them work around Thai borders in the Golden Triangle more than in the past," said Jeremy Douglas, who represents the UNODC in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
Traffickers have begun shipping large amounts of meth through Laos, northern Thailand, and throughout central Myanmar to the Andaman Sea, Douglas noted, adding that, "criminal groups from across the region also started moving and reconnecting after lengthy pandemic border closures, with late 2022 and early 2023 patterns starting to look similar to 2019."
"The ketamine situation in the region in many ways mirrors the supply-driven approach used to expand the methamphetamine market in the mid-2010s," said Inshik Sim, UNODC Regional Coordinator on Synthetic Drugs. "That being said, information on ketamine use is limited, and it is unclear how widespread it is -- research is badly needed."
The UNODC said it was working closely with countries in East and Southeast Asia to monitor the situation, and to increase cooperation on joint and cross-border operations.
In April, the Biden administration announced steps to crack down on fentanyl supply chains to the United States by increasing sanctions and expanding cooperation with global law enforcement partners.