Regional Overview (East & South East Asia)

Regional Overview – East and South-East Asia

Summary, emerging trends and concerns

  • ATS use, in particular methamphetamine use, continues to increase in most countries in East and South-East Asia.
  • The illicit manufacture of ATS continues at high levels in the region.
  • Methamphetamine seizures remained high in 2011.
  • Ecstasy has been in decline in recent years, but there are signs at the global level that the ‘ecstasy’ market is recovering.
  • A range of new psychoactive substances has emerged in the region in recent years.
  • Cocaine traffickers are targeting the large and untapped cocaine market in East and South-East Asia.
  • Organized criminal groups from Africa and the Islamic Republic of Iran continue to traffic methamphetamine and other illicit drugs into the region.
  • Drug treatment demand related to methamphetamine remains high in the region.

The illicit manufacture, trafficking and use of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) constitute one of the most significant drug problems worldwide. The East and South-East Asia region, which is home to about one-third of the global population, has some of the largest and most established ATS markets in the world. Methamphetamine in pill, powder and crystalline forms are the most widely used forms of ATS in the region. The demand for ecstasy remains high, although its use has declined. Demand for ATS and the massive profits generated by their trade continue to provide ample incentive for manufacturers and traffickers to expand their illicit business.

All countries in the region report the use of methamphetamine, with 13 countries reporting it as the primary or secondary drug of use: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Lao PDR, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. Seven countries reported the use of methamphetamine pills – Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam – while all but two countries (Lao PDR and Myanmar) reported the use of crystalline methamphetamine.

Crystalline methamphetamine use has rapidly be¬come more prevalent throughout the region, expanding in countries that previously had experienced only limited or no use, such as in Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. In 2011, increasing use of crystalline methamphetamine was reported in Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam.

In Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea, methamphetamine use has shown overall stable or declining trends over the past few years. Methamphetamine in crystalline form is the most common form of the drug in Japan and the Republic of Korea and the second most common form in Australia and New Zealand, after methamphetamine powder.

Figure 1. Methamphetamine pill seizures in East and South-East Asia, 2007-2011

Figure 2. Crystalline methamphetamine seizures in East and South-East Asia, 2007- 2011

The number of methamphetamine pills seized in the region continued at a high, albeit slightly declining, level. In 2011, a total of 122.8 million methamphetamine pills were seized, representing a 9% decrease from the 134.4 million pills seized in 2010. However, the total represents a 33% increase compared with 2009 (92.1 million seized) and a five-and-a-half fold increase compared with 2007 (22.4 million pills seized). The number of pills seized in China (61.9 million), Thailand (49.4 million), Myanmar (5.9 million) and Lao PDR (4.6 million) accounted for 98% of the total during the year (as these four countries did in 2010).

Seizures of crystalline methamphetamine in 2011 reached their highest level during the past five years. In 2011, a total of approximately 8.8 mt of crystalline methamphetamine were seized in the region, representing a 23% increase over the approximately 7.2 mt seized in 2010. Record level seizures were reported from Malaysia (1.2 mt) and Thailand (1.2 mt). In addition, the 1.2 mt of crystalline methamphetamine seized in Indonesia in 2011 is the highest total reported during the past five years. Record seizures were also reported from Cambodia (19.1 kg) and Singapore (14.1 kg), although the amounts seized are comparatively low by regional standards. The largest portion of crystalline methamphetamine seizures continued to be made in China, where the 4.5 mt seized in 2011 accounted for about half of the regional total.

Large-scale ATS manufacture takes place in Australia, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand and the Philippines. Limited and small-scale illicit ATS manufacture or ATS pill pressing operations have been reported in recent years from Japan, the Republic of Korea, Thailand and Viet Nam. Ecstasy manufacture has been reported from Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand and possibly also in Myanmar. A large number of illicit drug manufacturing laboratories dismantled during the past few years have been smaller and relatively mobile facilities based in private residences. In addition, the global trend of extracting ephedrine and pseudoephedrine from pharmaceutical preparations in the manufacture of methamphetamine also occurs in East and South-East Asia as well as in Australia and New Zealand.

In 2011, some 401 synthetic drug manufacturing facilities were dismantled in East and South-East Asia, most of which were manufacturing methamphetamine. The number of illicit ATS manufacturing facilities dismantled in 2011 is lower (9%) than the number of facilities seized in 2010 and about 13% lower than the number of illicit ATS facilities seized in 2009, the year in which clandestine laboratory seizures peaked (461).

Consolidated data on the ATS markets in South Asia and the smaller Pacific Island nations are limited, but increasingly suggest that ATS is spreading. South Asia is attractive to organized crime groups seeking to manufacture ATS due to the large precursor chemical industry and the potential market. The established presence of clandestine laboratories for synthetic drug manufacture risks a spill-over into the local market. There are already indications of methamphetamine use in the vulnerable Pacific Islands nations. Very few countries have adopted the frameworks for international drug control, and the absence of formal drug surveillance systems for monitoring illicit drug use and emerging drug trends, leads to very sporadic and limited data reporting – either nationally or regionally.