The U.N. Drug control authority says illicit opium production continues to fall in Asia. But a new report says the region faces a rising social menace from stimulants such as methamphetamines.
The U.N. International Narcotics Control Board annual report says increased regional cooperation in Asia has led to a significant reduction in regional opium production in recent years.
Burma and Laos rank second and third behind Afghanistan as the world's leading producers of opium. But the report says international efforts - including assistance from the United Nations as well as Japan and the United States - have led to a sharp reduction in opium cultivation. Laos has seen levels of production cut in half since 1998.
Akira Fujino, the representative for the Office of Drugs Control for East Asia and the Pacific, also welcomed the gains posted by Burma in lowering opium production.
"Myanmar is the second largest illicit opium producer and there has been a major reduction in the area of opium poppy cultivation. As compared to 1996 there has been a two-thirds reduction in opium poppy cultivation in the area," he said.
But while opium output in the region has fallen, a new regional threat is the spreading production of stimulants such as methamphetamines.
Mr. Fujino calls the trend alarming.
"There is an alarming increase in the spread of abuse involving methamphetamines, particularly in this part of the world. In Thailand, methamphetamine, as I understand, is now the major drug of abuse. In Cambodia it is increasing and Cambodia is used as a transit point, Laos as well," he said.
Methamphetamine abuse is also on the rise in the Philippines and China, while in Japan such stimulants remained the number-one drug of abuse. More than two-thirds of global seizures of methamphetamines take place in East and South East Asia, with the largest seizures reported in China, Burma, and Thailand.
Authorities have been trying to clamp down on the factories producing the drugs and to curb the cross-border trade of chemicals needed in the production.
The U.N. report says Burma remains a major production base for amphetamine-type stimulant drugs, which are then smuggled, into neighboring countries such as Thailand and beyond.
The key chemicals used in the production, known as precursors, are imported mainly from China. But Mr. Fujino says they are increasingly being brought from India into the clandestine factories located in the north-eastern regions near the Thai border.
The U.N. report is calling for stricter controls on such chemicals and wider international cooperation in a bid to identify and dismantle the laboratories and halt illicit production.