Republic of Korea
Emerging trends and concerns
- Crystalline methamphetamine remains the most commonly used drug in the Republic of Korea, accounting for most drug-related arrests and nearly all drug treatment admissions.
- The Republic of Korea is affected by the transiting of drugs and precursor chemicals destined for illicit markets and manufacturing countries in the region.
- New psychoactive substances such as the synthetic cannabinoid JWH-018 or the plant-based substance kratom have been seized in Republic of Korea, suggesting that a market for these substances is developing.
Overview of the drug situation
Crystalline methamphetamine remains the most widely used illicit drug in the Republic of Korea. Since 2004, methamphetamine has accounted for about 65-80% of all drug-related arrests (SPO 2012b and previous years) and more than 95% of admissions to drug treatment (SPO 2011c; ARQ Republic of Korea 2010 and previous years).
Until the late 1980s, the Republic of Korea was a significant source of methamphetamine and other amphetamine-type stimulants for illicit drug markets in Asia. Since that time, the clandestine manufacture of methamphetamine has been rare; the last such manufacture was reported in 2010 when four small- scale ‘kitchen-type’ methamphetamine manufacturing operations were seized (SPO 2011a). Most of the methamphetamine found in the Republic of Korea has historically come from China, but in recent years source countries for methamphetamine have diversified. During the past few years, the Republic of Korea has been indicated as a source of ephedrine and pharmaceutical preparations containing pseudoephedrine that have been trafficked to other countries in the Asia and the Pacific region (UNODC 2011b). The country has also been increasingly targeted by transnational drug trafficking organizations as both a destination and a transit country for drugs in recent years, thus raising the concern that domestic drug use may rise in the next few years.
Cannabis is the second most commonly used drug in the Republic of Korea. Synthetic cannabinoids (JWH-018 and its analogues), first detected in the country in 2008 (SPDO 2012), are still not widely used in the Republic of Korea but have been identified as an emerging threat. In July 2009, the Government placed synthetic cannabinoids under national control (KCS 2012). Heroin and cocaine are not indicated to be commonly used in the country as reflected by drug seizure and arrest data (SPO 2012a).
Table 1. Trend in use of selected drugs in the Republic of Korea, 2007-2011
Seizures of crystalline methamphetamine nearly doubled in 2011 to 23.5 kg, the highest total reported since 2008. The amount of methamphetamine pills and ecstasy seized in the country remains limited (SPO 2012a).
A small but increasing quantity of new psychoactive substances, including various synthetic cathinones and piperazines, have been seized in the Republic of Korea in 2012 and 2011.
Table 2. Seizures of selected drugs in Korea, 2007-2011
The illicit manufacture of methamphetamine is rare in Republic of Korea. In 2011, the largest portion of methamphetamine seized in the country originated from China (5.8 kg), followed by Mali (4.2 kg), South Africa (3.6 kg), Canada (3.2 kg) and the Philippines (2.1 kg) (SPDO 2012). In addition, Cambodia, Ghana, Malaysia, Mexico and Taiwan Province of China have also been identified as sources for methamphetamine smuggled into Republic of Korea during the past few years (SPDO 2012; SPO 2011a; ARQ 2010; INCB 2010).
ARQ 2010 Republic of Korea. ‘Annual Report Questionnaire for 2009’, Republic of Korea 2010.
INCB 2010. ‘Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 2009’, International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), Vienna, February 2010.
KCS 2012. ‘Drug Smuggling Trend in Korea’ Korea Customs Service, presented at the Twenty-second Anti-Drug Liaison Officials’ Meeting for International Cooperation (ADLOMICO), Busan, Republic of Korea, 12-14 September 2012.
SPDO 2012. ‘Drug Trends in Korea and International Cooperation’, Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office (SPDO), presented at the Twenty-second Anti-Drug Liaison Officials’ Meeting for International Cooperation (ADLOMICO), Busan, Republic of Korea, 12- 14 September 2012.
SPO 2012a. ‘Drug Control in Korea 2012’, Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, Narcotics Division, Narcotics and Organized Crimes Department, Seoul, 2012.
SPO 2012b. ‘Recent Drug Trend in Republic of Korea (C/Y 2011)’, Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, (SPO), Narcotics Division, presented at the Seventeenth Asia- Pacific Operational Drug Enforcement Conference (ADEC), Tokyo, 14-16 February 2012.
SPO 2012c. ‘Current status of synthetic cannabinoids analysis in SPO, KOREA’, Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, Drug Analysis Unit, presented at the Twenty-second Anti-Drug Liaison Officials’ Meeting for International Cooperation (ADLOMICO), Busan, Republic of Korea, 12-14 September 2012.
SPO 2011a. ‘Drug Control in Korea 2011’, Supreme Prosecutors’ Office (SPO), Narcotics Division, Narcotics and Organized Crimes Department, Seoul, 2011.
SPO 2011b. ‘Drug Trend in the Republic of Korea in 2010’, Supreme Prosecutors’ Office (SPO), Narcotics Division, presented at the Sixteenth Asia-Pacific Operational Drug Enforcement Conference (ADEC), Tokyo, 22-24 February 2011.
SPO 2011c. Official communication with the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, August 2011.
UNODC 2011b. ‘Patterns and Trends of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants and Other Drugs, Asia and the Pacific’ United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Vienna, November 2011.