Oversupply of drugs in Mekong, East Asia puts younger users at risk: UN

A general view of the Mekong river at the border between Thailand and Laos. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Production and trafficking of illicit drugs have reached unprecedented levels in South-east Asia's Mekong region and East Asia, the United Nations said on Tuesday (Oct 2), warning that oversupply increases the risks for younger users.

Even as authorities seize larger amounts of illicit drugs, oversupply pushes down prices, bringing some, such as methamphetamine, within reach, an official of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said.

"The supply keeps growing as organised crime is ramping up supply and flooding the region with product," Jeremy Douglas, the body's regional representative, told Reuters ahead of a meeting in the Thai capital to assess the trends.

In Thailand, for instance, the price of a methamphetamine tablet ranged between US$1.5 (S$2.06) and US$4.5 in 2017, down from a range of US$4 to US$7 in 2014, UN data this year showed.

In the wealthy nearby city-state of Singapore, prices fell to below US$6 in 2017, from US$20 in 2014.

"The surge in 'yaba' tablet supply has pushed street prices down across the region, making them affordable by younger users who are being introduced to the drug," Douglas added, using a Thai term for the tablet form of methamphetamine.

Police seized more than 14 million meth pills worth US$45 million in one of Thailand's biggest drug busts in August.

Neighbouring Malaysia made its largest seizure of crystal meth in May, intercepting nearly 1.2 tonnes of the drug disguised as tea in a shipment from Myanmar.

Much of South-east Asia's meth production comes from lawless parts of Myanmar, in particular Shan State, the UNODC said in 2017.

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