Emerging trends and concerns
- Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) remains a major transit country for illicitly manufactured drugs originating from the Golden Triangle.
- In recent years, increasing amounts of crystalline methamphetamine and precursor chemicals have been seized in the country and with record highs reported in 2015.
- In recent years, the number of drug-related arrests has increased significantly and reached a record level in 2015.
Overview of the drug situation
Located between major ATS manufacturers and large user markets, Lao PDR is particularly vulnerable to illicit drug trafficking. The country’s mountainous terrain and its many rivers pose a challenge for Lao PDR’s law enforcement agencies. Paradoxically, the increasing pace of regional integration and the development of transportation and communication networks offer new opportunities for drug trafficking syndicates to expand their activities in the region. Illicit poppy cultivation and opium production continues to be of concern, and significant quantities of methamphetamine and opiates manufactured in the Golden Triangle continue to be trafficked via Lao PDR to neighbouring countries.
In the absence of an official drug use survey, data reported by the Provincial Committee for Drug Control (PCDC) estimates that there were 65,000 – 70,000 drug users in the country in 2015, representing approximately 1% of the total population1. Methamphetamine pills, primarily used in urban and border areas of the country, have remained the primary drug of concern in Lao PDR2. Crystalline methamphetamine use is currently not perceived as a great concern in Lao PDR. However, increasing amounts of crystalline methamphetamine have been seized in Lao PDR in recent years, suggesting its possible role as a transit location for traffickers.
Table 1. Trend in use of selected drugs in Lao PDR, 2011-2015*
* Based on expert perception provided by Lao National Commission for Drugs Control and Supervision (LCDC).
The Government of Lao PDR currently operates 12 treatment centres across the country, with two additional centres under construction3. The Somsanga Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre in Vientiane is the only centre that collects data in a regular manner and provides data on persons admitted by drug type4. The Centre reports that methamphetamine pills have been the primary drug of use among approximately 95% of persons registered since 20045. In 2015, 2,696 persons were treated at the Centre, marking a significant decrease compared to 2014, when 3,877 drug users were admitted to the centre6. Of the 2,696 persons admitted in 2015, 98% (2,643 persons) were treated for methamphetamine use, while only nine persons were treated for heroin7. Most other persons in drug treatment centres in Lao PDR continue to be treated for heroin, alcohol, inhalants and cannabis use.
In recent years, the number of drug-related arrests in Lao PDR has risen rapidly. In 2015, a total of 3,346 persons were arrested for illicit drugs, including 555 women and 90 foreign nationals8. Between 2010 and 2015, there was more than a three-fold increase in the number of drug-related arrests in Lao PDR. This poses a significant challenge to the criminal justice system in the country.
Figure 1. Number of arrests for drug-related offences in Lao PDR (2010 – 2015)
Source(s): DAINAP, LCDC, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Lao PDR”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional workshop, Vientiane, Lao PDR, 30-31 August, 2016.
Seizures of methamphetamine pills in Lao PDR have fluctuated strongly in recent years. In 2015, the number of methamphetamine pills seized in Lao PDR increased by approximately 65%, to 6.33 million (6,331,692) pills, compared to 3.83 million (3,832,895) pills in 2014. The increase in the number of methamphetamine pill seizures in 2015 is mainly due to a seizure of almost 3 million methamphetamine pills in Vientiane in July 20159. However, the figure for 2015 is nearly 60% lower than that of 2013 (15,083,355). It is imperative to note that, seizures of methamphetamine pills in the country were lower than 2 million pills in each of three preceding years of 2010 when the record number of methamphetamine pills (24.5 million pills), originating from Myanmar, was seized10. The seizure of large scale shipments of methamphetamine pills, a single one of which can be much larger than the total annual amount seized in the years before 2010, point to the existence of a drug flow from Myanmar through Lao PDR to other countries in the region. It seems that the Myanmar-Lao PDR border area has become more attractive for traffickers who are moving shipments of several million pills.
Figure 2. Seizures of methamphetamine pill in Lao PDR (2006 – 2015)
Over the last three years, some amounts of crystalline methamphetamine have been seized in Lao PDR. At almost 142 kg, the total amount of crystalline methamphetamine seized in the country in 2015 was the highest ever reported for Lao PDR. Between 2006 and 2012, no seizures of crystalline methamphetamine were reported in Lao PDR11.
Table 2. Seizures of selected drugs in Lao PDR, 2011-2015
● = Not reported.
Source(s): DAINAP; LCDC, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Lao PDR”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional workshop, Vientiane, Lao PDR, 30-31 August, 2016.
Lao PDR is a major transit location for methamphetamine, heroin and opium originating from the Golden Triangle and destined for markets in Thailand, Viet Nam, China and Cambodia. There are indications that Lao PDR is also a significant transit country for precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of drugs in the Golden Triangle area. In 2015, approximately 4,372 kg of unspecified precursors in powder form were seized in Lao PDR (1,494 kg in 2014)12.
Lao PDR remains a major producer of opium in the region, in spite of the area under cultivation being significantly less than that of Myanmar. The total area under opium poppy cultivation in Lao PDR in 2015 was estimated to be 5,700 hectares, at about a similar level as in 2014 (6,200 ha)13. Phongsali and Houaphan provinces accounted for 72% of opium poppy cultivation areas in Lao PDR14.
Methamphetamine pills continue to be the cheapest and the most widely available illicitly-used drug in Lao PDR. In 2015, the reported retail price for one methamphetamine pill was USD 2, which is the same price reported in previous two years15.
There have been no reports of trafficking or use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) in Lao PDR.
1 Lao National Commission for Drugs Control and Supervision (LCDC), “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Lao PDR”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Vientiane, Lao PDR, 30-31 August, 2016.
2 Drug Abuse Information Network for Asia and the Pacific (DAINAP).
3 Official communication with LCDC, May 2016.
5 DAINAP. While other centres can also provide ATS treatment, Somsanga is the only centre that provides specialized treatment for ATS patients which may explain why patients admitted for ATS use feature so prominently in the data from this centre.
7 LCDC, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Lao PDR”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional workshop, Vientiane, Lao PDR, 30-31 August, 2016.
9 LCDC, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Lao PDR”, presented at the SMART regional workshop, Beijing, China, 16-17 September 2015.
10 The record number of methamphetamine pill seizures in 2010 was due to a single major seizure case involved with 21.8 million pills originating from Myanmar.
12 LCDC, “Report of Seizure of Illicit Drugs from January to December 2015”, January 2016.
13 UNODC, “Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2015: Myanmar and Lao PDR”, December 2015.
15 DAINAP; LCDC, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Lao PDR”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional workshop, Vientiane, Lao PDR, 30-31 August, 2016.