As opium demand declines, methamphetamine use rises in Myanmar

World Today

Myanmar is the second-largest producer of opium in the world. Recently, it’s made strides in combating opium production, but another drug is rapidly gaining ground.

CGTN’s Dave Grunebaum reports.
Follow Dave Grunebaum on Twitter @ReporterDavid

At a recent electronic music festival in Yangon, most in the crowd were in their late teens and 20s. Many were not just dancing to the pounding rhythms, but also using methamphetamines such as Yaba and Crystal Meth.

“It makes you feel active and it makes you much more concentrated,” Jack, a former meth user, said.

The government puts on displays in which the authorities burn confiscated drugs. But the seizures are barely making a dent in the problem.

Methamphetamine use is spreading across the country.

“I can buy everywhere,” Jack said. “You can buy in every major city, every minor city, every village you name it you can buy it everywhere.”

For years, the top drug issue in Myanmar had been heroin, which is derived from opium poppies. A recent United Nations reports, however, said there has been a 25 percent decrease in opium cultivation in the country over the past two years.

“Opium prices are decreasing, and in fact we’re seeing less demand in opium in the region, nost just Myanmar,” according to Troels Vester of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. “We’ve seen a switch to a much bigger interest, with users moving to methamphetamine, or Yaba, as it’s called.”

Most of country’s illegal drug production takes place in the lawless areas outside of the central government’s control in the country’s northeast. The drugs produced there then flow across the region into Laos, China, and Thailand.

On the streets of Yangon, a pill of Yaba can be bought for as little as two dollars. People said cheap prices and easy access is leading to widespread use.

“You can find a doctor using meth, you can see a car driver using meth, you can see a college student using meth, you can see even a college teacher using meth,” according to Jack.

Jack said he stopped using meth about a year ago, because it was destroying his career and personal life. For every person who quits, however, several more are ready to give it a try.