Merchants of meth target Asian wealth, Pacific trade routes | Asia Pacific

Merchants of meth target Asian wealth, Pacific trade routes

Merchants of meth target Asian wealth, Pacific trade routes

Updated 20 May 2014, 12:59 AEST

The UN's peak body on drugs and crime has warned of a rapid expansion of global markets for methamphetamine and synthetic drugs.

In its latest assessment, the UNODC says Asia is being targeted by traffickers because of growing wealth and a large youth population.

It says methamphetamine has also been trafficked from Southeast Asia to Pacific countries like Fiji.

Pacific island nations are also vulnerable to trafficking and transit, because of lax border patrols.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Jeremy Douglas, regional representative, UNODC for SE Asia and the Pacific

DOUGLAS: There's big dynamic change occurring right now in terms of the meth market, in terms of the globalisation of the trade, and we're seeing Asia in particular, starting to be heavily targeted by criminal organisations from the Americas, from Africa and growth within the organised crime groups within Asia.

So we're really seeing a lot of trade into Asia of precursors of methamphetamine from around the world.

LAM: As you say growing demand has been registered in East and Southeast Asia, what are some of the factors driving this growth?

DOUGLAS: There're a few things driving it but the region has really grown economically and people's disposable incomes have growth a lot. And the traffickers have noticed this. They've been targeting the money which is being generated in Southeast Asia, and also the area has an enormous youth population. So it's got the right demographic profile for growth.

LAM: And closer to home, a record number of clandestine laboratories has been detected in Australia, the labs are making methamphetamine. Is that a reflection of an ever growing market place in the region?

DOUGLAS: Well certainly Australia has high, high demand from a western market type perspective, very mature market.

And I think it reflects, the seizure of labs reflects really good work of the police in Australia to seize the labs. And it also reflects though on the downside, the availability of precursors, the chemicals to make the methamphetamine are increasingly trafficked into Australia to be made into methamphetamine.

LAM: Well the law enforcement is the upside, on the downside are these drugs, these synthetic drugs making their way to parts of the Pacific?

DOUGLAS: We've seen indications of that, yes.

We've had recently in Fiji methamphetamine trafficked from Southeast Asia, seized in Suva. We've had in the past, (seen) the setup of a couple of labs, of methamphetamine labs in the Pacific, including one that was very, very large.

And the Pacific is ripe for trafficking and transit because basically the countries don't have the capacity to patrol their boundaries or their territory, so you have a lot of ships traversing the area. So you'll have definite weakness there for and possibility for trafficking through the Pacific.

LAM: You made mention of the fact that the Australian police have made progress. Mention was also made in the report of record levels of methamphetamine seizures worldwide. Is this because law enforcement has improved, or that the illicit markets have become even more active and even bigger?

DOUGLAS: I think it's a combination of both.

I think in some parts of say for example Southeast Asia where we've seen rising seizures, it's because of good work done by the international community to help the countries to become more aware of how to identify and stop drugs that are being trafficked, how to identity clandestine labs and stop and seize them.

But at the same time, it's clearly a reflection of growth and change in the market.

LAM: The report also made mention of the tremendous impact of synthetic drugs on police, courts, prison, healthcare systems around the world. Would you care to elaborate?

DOUGLAS: Yeah I'll give you a good example, here in Thailand where I'm based we see in the court system, the prison system we see upwards of 70 per cent of cases related to drugs, and of those the vast majority are synthetic drugs, mainly methamphetamine.

So we have at the moment well over two-thirds, maybe even 70 per cent of people in the prisons of Thailand are here for drugs, which is an enormous burden on the state systems, to essentially warehouse these people.

At the same time we also see an attempt by this country and neighbouring states to try to deal with it through drug treatment. And we're seeing huge state expenditure on drug treatment, some of it very ineffective unfortunately, because again it's almost prison-like conditions where people are being treated.

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