March 01, 2012
Indonesia got a wake-up call Tuesday (February 28th) when the annual report of the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said it was poised to become the region's top producer of MDMA ("ecstasy").
"It appears that 90% of the ecstasy seized in the country was supplied by domestic illicit manufacture…[raising] concern that the country may become a main source of that drug in the region," the report said.
Thirteen clandestine narcotics labs were dismantled in Indonesia in 2010 alone, some simultaneously producing multiple drugs, according to findings presented by INCB member Sri Suryawati at the UN office in Jakarta.
The INCB also highlighted a surge in the smuggling and abuse of methamphetamine, especially in Thailand, where the amount of tablets seized almost doubled in 2010 from the year before.
A record 50 million tablets were seized in 2010, an 88% increase over 2009 numbers, the report said. Methamphetamine, a synthetic drug that mimics adrenaline, is Thailand's most common drug of abuse.
"The amount of methamphetamine seized in East and Southeast Asia increased significantly," the report said. "In Thailand, the growing abuse of crystalline methamphetamine [a smokeable, freebase form of meth] has been a worrying trend, partly due to increasing availability of the drug in the region."
Meanwhile, methamphetamine is increasingly being smuggled through East and Southeast Asia by West African and Iranian organised crime groups, the report said.
These groups increasingly use female drug mules, often from Ghana, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand.
The report also described increased cocaine and benzodiazepine (pharmaceutical) abuse in Indonesia, and increased heroin trafficking and poppy cultivation in Thailand.
Trafficking and abuse of ketamine, an anaesthetic often mixed with ephedrine or other amphetamine-like stimulants, is also on the rise in Asia, with 99% of all global seizures taking place in the region.
According to The Jakarta Post, Deputy Health Minister Ali Ghufron Mukti said Indonesia would ask the World Health Organisation to help develop a co-ordinated response to ketamine abuse and production.
The UN urged governments to tackle the problem of illegal drugs, especially through regional co-operation.
"The Board urges governments of countries in the region to devise appropriate and effective strategies to address the threats posed by trafficking in and abuse of methamphetamine and to strengthen regional cooperation in that regard," the report recommended.
Indonesian INCB member Sri Suryawati also underlined the regional nature of the problem, while expressing confidence it can be overcome. "In my opinion, this is not a single country problem," she told Khabar Southeast Asia. "Almost every day Customs and police seized ecstasy in different points including airports and open coast smuggled from different countries including Malaysia, Iran and Nigeria."
"I am optimistic the situation will be better in a few years. There have been several [cases of] regional co-operation [in the past] to combat the situation and even more extensive co-operation in the last few years," she said.
Asia expert Vikram Nehru, who for 20 years was a top economist on Indonesia and China at the World Bank, commended Indonesia for its progress in fighting illegal drugs.
"It is important to recognise that the Indonesian law enforcement authorities have been reasonably successful in combating the scourge of illicit drugs, although as the report says, this is a problem that is growing alarmingly worldwide, and is difficult for any one country to solve on its own," Nehru told Khabar.
ASEAN countries could jointly combat illegal drugs through information sharing, consistent anti-drug laws, simplified extraditions and "joint law enforcement efforts on the high seas using 'eye in the sky' technologies for interdicting drug traffickers," he said.