Methamphetamine

The data on seizure, manufacture, and use indicate that there is no sign of slowing down in the expansion of methamphetamine market in East and South-East Asia. A comparison of seizure data between 2006 and 2015 clearly indicates the more rapid and ongoing expansion of methamphetamine seizures whereas heroin seizures seem to level off in recent years. Between 2006 and 2015, annual seizures of methamphetamine increased more than five-fold, while heroin seizures increased only by 75%.  

As opium poppy cultivation continues to take place in the Golden Triangle, opiates remain problematic in the region in terms of production, trafficking and use. Opium poppy cultivation in the region, which had reached its lowest level in 2006, has since gradually increased and, since 2014, remained at comparatively high levels. Heroin remains a drug of major concern in some countries including Myanmar, Malaysia and Viet Nam. In 2015, increasing use trends were perceived in Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Viet Nam whereas other countries in the region perceived  either stable or decreasing use trends.

There are strong indications that methamphetamine use continues to increase in East and South-East Asia. All countries in the Greater Mekong Sub-region, with an exception of Thailand, perceived  an increase in the use of methamphetamine tablets in 2015. Of greater concern, all countries in East and South-East Asia, excluding Indonesia and Japan, perceived increases in crystalline methamphetamine use. It is important to note that several countries in the region, including Cambodia, China, the Philippines, Singapore and Viet Nam, have reported perceived consecutive increases in crystalline methamphetamine use in recent years.    

Seizures data suggest that the number and the scale of methamphetamine manufacture in East and South-East Asia have been rising to meet the methamphetamine market demand. For instance, there was a seven-fold increase in the detection of clandestine synthetic drug manufacturing facilities in East and South-East Asia. The large majority of seized synthetic drug laboratories were known to have manufactured methamphetamine. In addition, several cases reported in the region in recent years show the immense manufacturing capacity of these clandestine methamphetamine laboratories.

Combined seizures of methamphetamine tablets and crystalline methamphetamine in 2015 in East and South-East Asia amounted to 60 tons with approximately 34 tons of crystalline methamphetamine, surpassing the amount seized in North America. Seizures of crystalline methamphetamine in 2015 were larger by weight than that of methamphetamine tablets for the first time since 2008. Preliminary data for 2016 indicate a continuation of this trend.

A total of 287 million methamphetamine tablets were seized in East and South-East Asia in 2015, a more than two-fold increase compared to 2011. Most of these were seized in the six Greater Mekong Subregion countries – Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam. According to preliminary figures, seizures in 2016 may exceed 320 million tablets, which would be the highest number of tablets seized since the start of monitoring in 2008. While the steep increase in seizures of methamphetamine tablets could reflect improved law enforcement activities, expert perception, price, and purity trends denote a growing demand of the drug in the region.  

The average purity of methamphetamine tablets found in East and South-East Asia varies by country but, overall, seems to be relatively stable. Outside of this sub-region the median purity of the methamphetamine tablet samples was not reported to UNODC, with the exception of Singapore, which has a limited methamphetamine tablet market.  There are indications that the retail price of a methamphetamine tablet decreased in US dollar terms in several countries in the region, including Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Singapore in recent years. The decline in price, in light of stable purity level and increases in seizures, could suggest increasing supply of the drug.

At more than 34 tons in 2015 in the region, the seizure of crystalline methamphetamine reached a record high. Several countries in the region reported unprecedented amounts of crystalline methamphetamine seized in that year, including Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, the Republic of Korea and Viet Nam. The Greater Mekong Sub-region countries accounted for about 75% of the total crystalline methamphetamine seizures between 2011 and 2015. According to preliminary figures, seizures of crystalline methamphetamine in 2016 may remain at the high levels reached in 2015.

The average purity of crystalline methamphetamine in East and South-East Asia remains high. For instance, almost all of the 2,762 samples analysed in China in 2015 had purities higher than 80%. Thailand also reported that the vast majority (89%) of samples analysed in the country in 2015 had purities of over 90%. Crystalline methamphetamine seized in four maritime South-East Asian countries – Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore – in 2015 had purities between 70 – 80%.

The retail prices of crystalline methamphetamine in some countries in East Asia and Oceania are comparatively high. These differences in the price of crystalline methamphetamine may drive traffickers, within and outwiththe region to expand markets in high income countries such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea. In fact, seizures of crystalline methamphetamine at the borders of these four countries increased rapidly in recent years.

There are indications from some countries in the region - Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines and Thailand - that transnational drug trafficking groups from Taiwan Province of China are playing a significant role in methamphetamine manufacturing and trafficking in the region. For instance, Japanese national authorities seized 600 kg and 154 kg of crystalline methamphetamine in May and July 2016 with both cases involving drug trafficking groups from Taiwan Province of China.   
 
Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are two of the main precursors used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Both chemicals have widespread legitimate use in the pharmaceutical industry, in bulk form and in the form of pharmaceutical preparations. In order to circumvent controls on ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, traffickers have started to use 1-phenyl-2-propanone (P-2-P) as an alternative. Indeed, the use of P-2-P-based methods seems to have spread to the region with seizures of P-2-P reported by China and Myanmar in recent years. Seizure data indicate that other chemicals that are not under international control may be used to manufacture methamphetamine and its precursors. Notable seizures of other pre-precursors include 10 tons of benzaldehyde in Australia in 2013/14, although methamphetamine produced in Australia is primarily manufactured from ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.