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Sassafras Oil Export Worries Drug Officials

The use of sassafras tree oil in the production of the drug Extacy is a rising concern for authorities.

Cambodia has become an exporter of the oil of the sassafras tree, which is used in the manufacture of the drug Extacy.

Sassafras oil mainly comes from the three provinces of Koh Kong, Pursat and Battambang, said Luar Ramin, secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, at a recent conference.

The sassafras tree, especially Cambodia's mountain variety, produces an oil high in the chemical safrole, which is in turn used to produce the head-shaking, euphoric drug.

"According to the report of Vietnam, submitted through [the UN drug control office], between 2003 and 2005, the tree oil has been shipped in the hundreds of tons, through Vietnam for the international market," Luar Ramin said. "When Vietnam stopped buying it, the tree oil was exported through Thailand, and they seized 50 tons of it. This is a critical sign of worry."

Cambodia's forestry law prohibits the harvest or transport of sassafras oil, which is classified as a top-tier controlled substance.

Eng Chhunthan, a rights worker for Licadho based in Pursat, said he has received verbal reports that the cultivation of the oil continues in forests far from provincial centers.