Thailand

Emerging trends and concerns

  • Annual seizure amounts of methamphetamine both in pill and crystalline form have stabilized in recent years yet remained at high levels.
  • While the use of methamphetamine pills remains of great concern, recent Government reports estimate that the number of crystalline methamphetamine users is on the increase.
  • Transnational criminal groups continue to target Thailand as a major transit location for the trafficking of illicit drugs and precursor chemicals to international markets, and also as a destination country for illicit drugs.

Overview of the drug situation

Methamphetamine trafficking and use continues to be the main drug-related concern in Thailand as evidenced by arrests, seizures and drug treatment data. Annual seizure amounts of methamphetamine both in pill and crystalline form have been at high levels in recent years. Seizures include methamphetamine destined for the local drug market, but also shipments intended for onward trafficking to other countries in East and South-East Asia and Oceania. The number of methamphetamine users admitted to treatment programmes in Thailand has decreased in recent years. According to the Government of Thailand, this is primarily due to a major change in its drug policy. In recent years, the Government’s promotion of voluntary treatment for drug users has led to a steep decrease in the number of admissions to compulsory drug treatment centres.

According to a recent government estimate, the number of methamphetamine users has been on the rise. It is estimated that there were approximately 2.89 million drug users in Thailand in 20141.  Of the 2.89 million users, 2.29 million users (79%) were estimated to have used methamphetamine pills and 185,000 users (6.4%) were considered to have used crystalline methamphetamine2.  Thai national authorities have reported that the crystalline methamphetamine market has grown rapidly in recent years in the country3.  “Ecstasy”4  use is limited and has shown a stable trend of late. The use of cannabis and kratom5 continues to be of concern. The use of heroin remains relatively low compared to methamphetamine. However, according to expert perception, the use of heroin has been on the increase in four out of five years since 2011 – a development which is also reflected in rising numbers of heroin users admitted to treatment.

Table 1. Trend in use of selected drugs in Thailand, 2011-2015
Source(s): DAINAP. Based on expert perception.

HIV prevalence among people who inject drug (PWID) in Thailand remains high and a serious concern even though the most recent data on HIV among PWID point to a declining trend. In 2014, the prevalence of HIV among PWID in the country was estimated to be 19%, a decrease from 25% in 20126.

In 2015, there were a total of 121,208 drug treatment admissions in Thailand, a 47% decrease compared with the previous year (229,654 admissions). Methamphetamine continued to be the most common drug of use reported by persons in treatment in 2015, accounting for approximately 84% of the total. Treatment admissions related to “ecstasy” remained low (202) in 2015. However, the proportion of women admitted for “ecstasy” use was relatively high (40% or 80 persons) compared to other drugs where female patients only represent 3% of persons in treatment on average. The number of persons admitted to treatment for kratom use also decreased by about 70% to 1,727 persons, accounting for about 1.4% of all treatment admissions in 2015.

Table 2. Drug treatment admissions in Thailand by drug type, 2011-2015
a Includes users of kratom in leaf and liquid form. ● = Not reported.
Source(s): DAINAP

Between 2007 and 2013, annual seizure amounts of methamphetamine both in pill and crystalline form increased, reaching a peak of 113 million methamphetamine pills and 1.68 mt of crystalline methamphetamine in 2013. In 2014 and 2015, seizures of both drugs have been relatively stabilized at a lower level compared to 2013 and the previous year. These recent trends might be the result of intensified law enforcement efforts to stop flows of illicit drugs originating from the Golden Triangle area, which is the main source area of methamphetamine found in Thailand.  

Table 3. Seizures of selected drugs in Thailand, 2011-2015
● = Not reported. a Ecstasy pill seizures converted into estimated kg equivalents at 1 pill = 300 mg. b Combined seizures of kratom leaves and kratom liquid (2011-2014). c -The figure does not contain seizures of kratom liquid.
Source(s): DAINAP; Official communication with ONCB, October 2012; ONCB, “Thailand country presentation”, presented at the Global SMART Programme Regional Workshop, Jakarta, 28-29 August 2013; ONCB, “Thailand country presentation”, presented at the Global SMART Programme Regional meeting, Yangon, Myanmar, 20-21 August 2014; ONCB, “Thailand country report”, presented at the 25th Anti-Drug Liaison Officials” Meeting for International Cooperation (ADLOMICO), Jeju, Republic of Korea, 22-24 September 2015; ONCB, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Thailand”, presented at Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September 2015.

A large majority of methamphetamine pills found in Thailand originate from along the border with Myanmar7.  Large amounts (90%) of crystalline methamphetamine seized in Thailand also originate from there8.  In addition, transnational criminal groups involving nationals of African countries, China and the Islamic Republic of Iran continue to target Thailand as both a destination and transit country for the trafficking of crystalline methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin to international markets9.  

Large quantities of precursor chemicals are diverted or smuggled through Thailand to illicit methamphetamine manufacturing locations located along the Thai-Myanmar border area, and to a lesser extent, in Cambodia10.  There are also indications that domestic drug trafficking networks managed from inside correctional facilities in Thailand are playing an increasing role in the illicit methamphetamine trade within the country11.  

There are indications that African transnational drug trafficking syndicates are increasingly targeting Thailand’s international airports for the trafficking of crystalline methamphetamine as well as cocaine. In 2014, approximately 36.4 kg of crystalline methamphetamine trafficked by African drug trafficking syndicates were seized across several Thai international airports12.  In addition, Thailand national authorities seized 15.1 kg of crystalline methamphetamine and 43 kg of cocaine at several Thailand international airports in 2015 and arrested 37 offenders, including 15 Thai nationals and 11 African nationals13.  A large number of these methamphetamine shipments were targeting the local market but some were destined for other markets in Asia, including Hong Kong (China), Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines14.  

Some quantities of pharmaceutical preparations containing pseudoephedrine have been seized in Thailand. During the first six months of 2015, a total of 6.2 kg and 51,600 pseudoephedrine pills were seized in Thailand15.  In addition, 20 mt of methylene chloride, a solvent used for illicit manufacture of drugs, including methamphetamine, originating from China were seized in Thailand en route to Myanmar in February 201516.  Most of the pseudoephedrine tablets as well as solvents seized in Thailand are believed to be destined for illicit methamphetamine manufacturing sites in Myanmar. Unlike in 2012 and 2013, when 12 small-scale ATS manufacturing facilities were detected in Thailand, no such facilities were dismantled in 2014 and 201517.  

“Ecstasy” use is limited in Thailand, in part due to a higher price of the substance than other drugs prevalent in Thailand. However, in 2015 the use of “ecstasy” was reported to have increased according to expert perception18.

Though the non-medical use of ketamine is not considered to be of major concern, synthetic drug pills found in Thailand often contain a mixture of ketamine with other substances, mainly methamphetamine and caffeine, and less frequently MDMA. Thailand also reported the emergence of mephedrone, ethylone, dimethylone, XLR-11, TFMPP, butylone, and flephedron in recent years10.

Figure 1: Chemical composition of synthetic drug pill samples containing ketamine, 2005-2014
Note: This chart represents an analysis of pill samples which contained at least some ketamine.
Source: ONCB, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Thailand”, presented at Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September 2015.

The average purity of seized methamphetamine has remained stable in Thailand during the last few years. Approximately 66% of all methamphetamine pill samples analysed in Thailand in 2015 had purity in the range of 15 – 25% of methamphetamine20.  The vast majority (89%) of crystalline methamphetamine samples analysed in the country in 2015 had purities of over 90% of methamphetamine21.  The retail price for a methamphetamine pill in 2015 ranged between USD 5 and 8, while 1g of crystalline methamphetamine was reported to cost between USD 57 and 84 at the retail level22.  

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1 ONCB, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Thailand”, presented at Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September 2015.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 “Ecstasy” pills sold as ecstasy in Thailand may contain substances other than MDMA.

5 Kratom is a substance derived from mitragyna speciosa and produces both stimulant and sedative effects.

6 Thailand National AIDS Council, “Thailand AIDS Response Progress Report 2015: Reporting Period: Fiscal Year of 2014”, 2015.

7 ONCB, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Thailand”, presented at Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September 2015.

8 ONCB, “Thailand country report”, presented at the 25th Anti-Drug Liaison Officials’ Meeting for International Cooperation (ADLOMICO), Jeju, the Republic of Korea, 22-24 September 2015.  

9 Ibid.

10 ONCB, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Thailand”, presented at Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September 2015.

11 ONCB, “Thailand country report”, presented at the 25th Anti-Drug Liaison Officials’ Meeting for International Cooperation (ADLOMICO), Jeju, Republic of Korea, 22-24 September 2015.

12 ONCB, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Thailand”, presented at Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September 2015.

13 ONCB, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Thailand”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional workshop, Vientiane, Lao PDR, 30-31 August, 2016.

14 ONCB, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Thailand”, presented at Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September 2015.

15 Ibid.

16 ONCB, “Thailand country report”, presented at the 25th Anti-Drug Liaison Officials Meeting for International Cooperation (ADLOMICO), Jeju, Republic of Korea, 22-24 September 2015.

17 One clandestine laboratory seized in 2013 was reported to produce “ecstasy” and ketamine. DAINAP

18 DAINAP.

19 UNODC, Early Warning Advisory on NPS, https://www.unodc.org/ nps (Accessed in Jan 2016); ONCB, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Thailand”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional workshop, Vientiane, Lao PDR, 30-31 August, 2016.

20 ONCB, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Thailand”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional workshop, Vientiane, Lao PDR, 30-31 August, 2016.

21 Ibid.

22 DAINAP.