Emerging trends and concerns
- Large quantities of methamphetamine, both in pill and crystalline form, have been seized in Myanmar in recent years with record highs reached in 2015.
- Methamphetamine in both pill and crystalline form originating from Myanmar continue to be seized in neighbouring countries.
- The number of persons admitted to government drug treatment facilities, and the proportion of methamphetamine users among them, are on the increase. The use of crystalline methamphetamine has been reported for the first time in 2015.
- Substantial quantities of known precursor chemicals for methamphetamine are trafficked from neighbouring countries and continue to be seized in Myanmar. There are indications that in addition to (pseudo)ephedrine-based methods, 1-phenyl-2-propanone (P-2-P) based methods might also used to manufacture methamphetamine in Myanmar
- A large “ecstasy” seizure in 2014 raises questions on the level of trafficking and role of Myanmar as a transit country.
Overview of the drug situation
Myanmar continues to be a major source of methamphetamine in both pill and crystalline form, opium and heroin in South-East Asia. The majority of methamphetamine is manufactured in Shan State in the eastern part of the country, and significant amounts originating from the country continue to be seized in neighbouring countries1.
While the large majority of persons admitted to drug treatment in Myanmar continue to be users of heroin and opium, there are indications that methamphetamine use is expanding rapidly in Myanmar. Information from the Myanmar Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC) indicates that methamphetamine pill use has increased each year in Myanmar since 20052.
Table 1. Trend in use of selected drugs in Myanmar, 2011-2015*
Source(s): DAINAP; UNODC, Annual Report Questionnaires (ARQ) Myanmar for 2014.
In recent years, the number of persons admitted to drug treatment centers has increased steadily in Myanmar. In 2015 a total of 7,684 persons were admitted to treatment centres, the highest number ever reported in the country. This steep surge might indicate the expansion of the illicit drug market in the country. However, in the absence of a national representative drug use survey, the extent of drug use among the general population in Myanmar is unclear3.
Figure 1. Number of persons admitted to drug treatment centres in Myanmar, 2011 – 2015
Source(s): DAINAP; CCDAC, “Myanmar country presentation”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September, 2015; Official communication with CCDAC, June 2016.
The number of persons in treatment related to methamphetamine use has increased for six successive years, albeit at a low level relative to opiates4. In 2015, the 359 methamphetamine users in treatment accounted for 4.7% of all persons who received treatment during that year5, a more than a two-fold increase compared to 2014. According to expert perception, this increase could partly be due to the emergence of the use of methamphetamine in crystalline form, which was reported by government officials for the first time in 2015, in addition to the use of methamphetamine pills.6
In 2014, approximately 2.4 % (177 persons) of all treatment admissions were related to methamphetamine in Myanmar. In contrast, a much higher proportion of methamphetamine use was found among persons arrested for drug-related offences. The results of urine analysis were positive for methamphetamine for 60% (125) of arrestees in Yangon, the commercial centre of the country, 22% (49) in Lashio and 12% (30) in Myitkyina respectively, in 20147.
The relatively low number of persons admitted to treatment for methamphetamine use in Myanmar might be due to a combination of factors, including: the lack of awareness of the negative health effects of methamphetamine use and the risk of developing a substance use disorder; poly drug use; and the limited availability of methamphetamine-specific treatment in treatment centres in the country. Government officials cite the lack of tools, guidelines and training for public health officers in treatment centres as a challenge for providing treatment services for methamphetamine users in the country. Due to the aforementioned factors, the extent of methamphetamine use in Myanmar is probably not well represented in treatment admission data.
Large quantities of methamphetamine have been seized in Myanmar in recent years. In 2015, driven by large single incidents, seizures of both methamphetamine pill and crystalline form reached a record high. In 2015, national authorities seized approximately 50 million methamphetamine pills. This is by far the largest annual amount of methamphetamine pills seized in the country and more than the combined total of the years 2012 to 2014. This steep increase is primarily due to one case involving 26.7 million methamphetamine pills seized in Yangon in July 20158. With regard to crystalline methamphetamine, nearly 2.3 mt were seized in 2015, marking an almost 300 % increase compared to 2014. This was by far the largest amount of crystalline methamphetamine seized since the start of monitoring. The sharp rise in the amount of crystalline methamphetamine seized in 2015 is primarily due to the seizure of 1,242 kg of the drug during several operations in Laukkai, the capital of Special Region 1, located in the northern part of Shan State, Myanmar, which is bordering China9.
Table 2. Seizures of selected drugs in Myanmar, 2011-2015
● = Not reported. a Methamphetamine for processing into methamphetamine pills. b Reported as 274.0 kg of liquid methamphetamine and 152.7 kg of crystalline methamphetamine. c Combined herb and resin. d Reported as 1.1 kg of powder and 3.1 litres of liquid types. e Reported as 3.1 litres of liquid types.
Source(s): DAINAP; CCDAC, “Myanmar country presentation”, presented at the Global SMART Programme Regional Workshop, Phnom Penh, 24-25 July 2012; CCDAC, “Myanmar country report”, presented at the Eighteenth Asia-Pacific Operational Drug Enforcement Conference (ADEC), Tokyo, 26-27 February 2013; CCDAC, “Myanmar country presentation”, presented at the Global SMART Programme Regional meeting, Yangon, Myanmar, 20-21 August 2014; CCDAC, “Myanmar country presentation”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September, 2015; CCDAC, “ATS and Precursor Chemical Control”, presented at the 39th Meeting of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies for Asia and the Pacific (HONLAP), 19-22 October, Bangkok, Thailand; CCDAC, “Seizures of Drugs by Law Enforcement Agencies from 1988 to 2015’, February 2016.
Most of the methamphetamine that originates from Myanmar is illicitly manufactured in eastern Shan State, close to the border with China and Thailand. Some methamphetamine is manufactured in small, mobile facilities, primarily in territories controlled by active or former ethnic insurgent groups. Although no large-scale methamphetamine laboratory seizures have been reported by the Government, the large amounts of methamphetamine seized in Myanmar and neighbouring countries may be indicative of the existence of manufacturing facilities in Myanmar.
Between 2005 and 2015, law enforcement authorities seized a total of 32 methamphetamine pill pressing machines, including 2 in 2014 and 3 in 2015. In July 201510, the national authorities seized nearly 200,000 methamphetamine pills together with 100 kg of semi-processed methamphetamine products (methamphetamine powder) from a methamphetamine manufacturing facility, dismantled in Tachileik in East Shan State, bordering Mae Sai, Thailand. A total of 9 kg of crystalline methamphetamine and 245 kg of ‘cutting agents’ for methamphetamine were also seized at the scene11.
Diversion of licit pharmaceutical preparations which contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine continues to be a main source for the illicit manufacture of methamphetamine. These preparations originate largely from India and China and to a lesser extent from Thailand. Lao People’s Democratic Republic has been identified as a transit point of precursor chemicals originating from Viet Nam12. While substantial amounts of methamphetamine precursor chemicals have been seized at the border with India in recent years, only limited amounts have been seized at the areas bordering China, where Government authorities have limited access.
Figure 2. Amounts and the number of cases of pseudoephedrine seizures in Myanmar, 2011 – 2015
The annual amounts, as well as the number of cases of pseudoephedrine seizures in Myanmar have been declining since 2012, despite strong increases in the seizure of methamphetamine over the same period. This decrease could indicate a reduction in the volume of pseudoephedrine, usually in the form of pharmaceutical preparations, trafficked from India to Myanmar in recent years, possibly as a result of strengthened interdiction efforts at the border but also because severe flooding and landslides affected transport routes in areas near the border. These developments could be the drive for traffickers to explore alternative manufacturing methods for methamphetamine and new routes to traffic the precursors required for them. Indeed, a total of approximately 2,200 litres of phenylacetic acid and 14,200 litres of 1-phenyl-2-propanone (P-2-P), perceived to have originated from China, were seized in Myanmar in 2014 and 201513. These two precursors can be used in a methamphetamine manufacturing scheme instead of (pseudo)ephedrine. P-2-P based manufacturing methods have so far been mainly reported from regions such as Central- and North America and Europe14.
A large portion of the methamphetamine pills manufactured in Myanmar is reportedly trafficked directly into China15 and Thailand, with some quantities trafficked via Lao PDR to Cambodia, Thailand and Viet Nam. Seizure data during the last few years suggest that significant and increasing quantities of methamphetamine pills are also being trafficked westward to Bangladesh16. While most crystalline methamphetamine originating from Myanmar is destined for the international market rather than for local use, the domestic demand for crystalline methamphetamine is increasing in some major cities in Myanmar17.
Methamphetamine pills in Myanmar in 2014 were typically composed of about 20% methamphetamine, 75% of caffeine and other substances18. The retail price for a methamphetamine pill in 2015 ranged between USD 2 and 4 (2014: USD 3-6 per pill) while the wholesale price for 1 kg of crystalline methamphetamine was reported to be between USD 2,000 and 10,000, the same range reported for 201419.
“Ecstasy” has not been reported as a drug of major concern in Myanmar and the country had not reported any large “ecstasy” seizures until 2014. The largest annual amount of “ecstasy” seized in a ten-year period before 2014 was reported in 2005 (5,807 pills)20. However, in 2014 a total of nearly 2.4 million “ecstasy” pills containing MDMA were seized in one single case off the coast of Tanintharyi Region21. The seized pills were destined for Malaysia which has been perceived to be a transit country for “ecstasy” by several countries, including Brunei Darussalam, New Zealand, and Singapore, in recent years22. Considering the sheer number of pills seized and the intended destination, it might be possible that the drugs were destined, not only for the Malaysian drug market but also for onward trafficking to other countries in South-East Asia and the Pacific.
The use of new psychoactive substances has not been indicated as a major problem in Myanmar. Myanmar is one of three countries in South-East Asia (the others being Malaysia and Thailand) where kratom23 use and cultivation are relatively common. A total of 687 kg of kratom was seized in Myanmar in 2015, the largest amounts of seizures ever reported by the country24.
1 National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC), Ministry of Public Security, China, “Annual Report on Drug Situation in China 2014”, June 2015; Office of the Narcotics Control Board of Thailand (ONCB), Thailand, “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 Drug Abuse Information Network for Asia and the Pacific (DAINAP).
3 The Government of Myanmar is in the process of implementing a national household survey on drug use with support from UNODC.
4 DAINAP; CCDAC, “Myanmar country presentation”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September, 2015.
5 Official communication with CCDAC, June 2016.
6 Official communication with CCDAC, October 2016.
7 CCDAC, “Myanmar country presentation”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September, 2015.
8 CCDAC, “Myanmar country presentation”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September, 2015.
9 CCDAC, “Initiative to Control Narcotic Drugs Problem in Myanmar”, presented at the ASEAN +3 Drug Workshop on Drug Monitoring Network of the ASEAN-NARCO, 22- 24 June, 2015.
10 CCDAC, “Myanmar country report”, presented at the 21st Asia-Pacific Operational Drug Enforcement Conference (ADEC), Tokyo, Japan, 16-18 February 2016.
11 CCDAC, “ATS and Precursor Chemical Control in Myanmar”, presented at the 39th Meeting of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies for Asia and the Pacific (HONLAP), 19-22 October, Bangkok, Thailand.
14 UNODC, Global SMART Update, Vol. 12, September 2014.
15 National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC), Ministry of Public Security, China, “Annual Report on Drug Situation in China 2014”, June 2015
16 Department of Narcotics Control, Ministry of Home Affairs, Bangladesh. (Accessed at http://www.dnc.gov.bd/statistics.html).
17 CCDAC, “Myanmar country presentation”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September, 2015.
19 Ibid. Price data may differ from data in national reports due to conversions made by UNODC.
21 Official communication with CCDAC, March 2015.
22 UNODC, The Challenge of Synthetic Drugs in East and South-East Asia and Oceania: Trends and Patterns of Amphetamine-type Stimulants and New Psychoactive Substances, May 2015.
23 A plant indigenous to Southeast Asia that contains the alkaloid mitragynine. The most frequent mode of administration is making tea out of the dried leaves. It is a controlled substance in Myanmar.
24 CCDAC, “Seizures of Drugs by Law Enforcement Agencies from 1988 to 2015”, February 2016.