“As the pandemic slowed down the global economy, the criminal syndicates that dominate the region quickly adapted and capitalized. They continued to aggressively push supply in a conscious effort to create market and demand,” Jeremy Douglas, UNODC regional manager representing Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement to CNN.
Growth was largely driven by countries in the Lower Mekong region – Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar, according to the report. Organized criminal groups have taken advantage of the priority of regional authorities to contain the spread of Covid-19 and apply public health measures.
The massive supply of cheap methamphetamine, which has kept prices low, “is helping to increase demand and use in the region,” according to the report.
UNODC has found that several large-scale methamphetamine makers appear to have established themselves in Cambodia in addition to Shan State in Myanmar, an area ruled by militias and warlords long accused of financing themselves through trafficking. drug. Cambodian authorities dismantled five synthetic laboratories in 2020, four of which produced methamphetamine. It was the first time that clandestine methamphetamine laboratories had been discovered in Cambodia since 2014.
Traffickers also appeared to be using new routes to move illicit narcotics and the precursor chemicals used to manufacture them. Laos appeared to be a focal point, as seizures of methamphetamine and precursor chemicals increased. Hong Kong was increasingly used as a transportation hub, according to the report. Methamphetamine seizures in the semi-autonomous Chinese city increased tenfold from 2019 to 2020, including a 500-kilogram shipment sent from Mexico to Australia.
“Organized criminal groups have been able to continue to expand the regional synthetic drug trade – particularly in Upper Mekong and Shan State in Myanmar – by maintaining a constant supply of chemicals in production areas despite border restrictions. that impacted legitimate crossings. – border trade, ”said Douglas.
Douglas and other experts fear that drug traffickers may take advantage of the volatile situation in Myanmar.
“When economies collapse, illicit economies usually rise and become more powerful – this is exactly what we fear and anticipate now,” he said.
“Criminals look for conditions they can use, and the law enforcement distraction and security failure we are witnessing provide them with the right environment – they thrive on the chaos that fuels legitimate businesses. “