UN warns of growing synthetic drug abuse in Asia, Middle East

Bangkok - While illicit production and use of synthetic drugs has stabilized in North America and Europe, it is on the rise in much of Asia and the Middle East, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said Tuesday.

The global market for amphetamine-type stimulants (ATSes), worth an estimated 65 billion dollars in wholesale and retail sales combined, has stabilized or shown signs of decline in North America, Europe and Oceania but the problem has shifted to new markets over the past few years, the office said.

In 2006, nearly half of Asian countries reported an increase in methamphetamine use and Saudi Arabia seized more than 12 tons of amphetamines, accounting for one-quarter of all amphetamine-type stimulants seized in the world, it noted.

The report acknowledged a lack of solid information on the illicit trade in synthetic drugs, production of which is notoriously easy to transfer from one country to another.

Much of the report's conclusions are based on seizures of pills or clandestine laboratories.

Based on seizures in 2006 and 2007 of labs in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Cambodia, the UN agency concluded that production of amphetamine-type stimulants was on the rise in South-east and East Asia while most of the region's governments also reported a rise in the abuse of synthetic drugs.

Much remains unknown about the stimulant market, judging by the report's conclusions.

"East and South-East Asia have now emerged as another source of ATS for international markets although available seizure and consumption data fail to explain the whereabouts of the enormous amounts of ATS that could potentially be manufactured in the region," it said. 

From 2002 to 2006, the three main methamphetamine-producing countries in Asia were China (38 per cent), Myanmar (21 per cent) and the Philippines (21 per cent), the UN office said.

"Reports from 2007 show methamphetamine from Myanmar shifting to new markets in Bangladesh, India and Nepal," it said.

The Near and Middle East, where 15 tons of methamphetamines were reported seized in 2006, have developed into a major new market for drugs produced in Europe.

"Recent increase of ATS problems in the region does not come as a surprise, considering the region's proximity to manufacturing areas in south-east Europe (including Bulgaria and Turkey) where ATS manufacture appears to be on the rise," the report said.

Launching the report in Bangkok, the executive director of the UN agency, Antonio Maria Costa, warned that the threat from such stimulants was not being taken seriously enough because they "are falsely perceived as being harmless."

"This is dangerous because while users experience increased confidence, sociability and energy, they can quickly become dependent and suffer serious mental health problems or even brain damage," Costa said. "Paranoia, kidney failure, violence, internal bleeding are among the side effects of the drug." (dpa)

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