Hidden amidst the Myanmar’s forest, a group of smugglers were carrying 2.2 million meth pills towards the Myanmar-Thai border. A patrol team found the group and the smugglers fled, with one reportedly firing at the officers. Gun fire began to ring through the forest as 9 of the smugglers were killed in the gun battle on May 28 2022. No officer was injured. While bloody encounters of this scale are less usual within the Golden triangle (Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos), the floods of methamphetamine constantly move across the borders.
It has been recently reported over 1 billion methamphetamine pills were seized in South East Asia in 2021 alone. The amount which was trafficked undetected was significantly higher. This is a record in the region according to a recent United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report. The graph below details the constant growth in the synthetic drug trade. This new trade began after the fall of the regions opium industry, as Afghanistan became the leading exporter of opium. As seen in the graph, the trade began early in the 2010s, but has exploded recently as crime groups see the profitability of synthetic drugs.
Shan State, Myanmar is the region in which most of the production takes place. Amidst the chaos of a coup and covid, the rule of law has continued to decay in Myanmar. This has allowed drug producers and traffickers to produce huge amounts of meth. A 2018 report on the Shan State says “Production takes place in safe havens in Shan State held by militias and other paramilitary units allied with the Myanmar military, as well as in enclaves controlled by non-state armed groups”. This has only been worsened by the military coup in 2021, which allows drug traffickers more freedom from authorities as they were left underfunded and preoccupied with rebels.
From the Shan State the drugs are then smuggled into other areas of Myanmar, for domestic consumption or global trafficking. The Shan State borders Thailand and Laos, operating at the centre of the Golden Triangle. As a result, vast amounts of meth are smuggled into the neighbouring countries. The political instability in Myanmar, has also made these border more porous, allowing for easier smuggling.
The UN report also details the growing consumption within the Synthetic golden triangle. Prices have continued to decrease in the region, allowing for further accessibility and affordability of the pills and ice. This is despite record seizures, showing the huge quantity of meth in South East Asia regardless of authorities efforts. This has led to all countries within the region calling meth the primary drug of concern.
The synthetic drug wave is global, but it is perhaps most advanced in South East Asia. The ease of production, using amateur drug labs as opposed to fields for cultivation, has led to traffickers producing vast amounts of drugs, which there is a clear regional and global demand for. As Jeremy Douglas, a regional representative for UNODC stated; “Organized crime [groups] have all the ingredients in place that they need to continue to grow the business, including territory to produce, access to chemicals, established trafficking routes and relationships to move product, and a massive population with spending power to target,”