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UN: Little Progress Against Asia’s Booming Synthetic Drugs Trade

FILE - Confiscated synthetic drugs are seen on display.
FILE - Confiscated synthetic drugs are seen on display.

A United Nations conference on the illegal trade in synthetic drugs says trafficking is growing across much of Southeast Asia, aided by the Internet and rising demand. Authorities are calling for tighter controls on the drug’s precursor chemicals.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says in East and Southeast Asia drug production and trafficking is expanding and diversifying, driven by new synthetic drugs outside international control.

The UNODC says there is a growing need to prevent legal chemicals from being diverted into drug production.

Need for international control

Jeremy Douglas, regional representative for the UNODC in Asia, in an address to more than 200 senior government officials from 39 countries Tuesday, said the region’s drug problem has gotten worse.

“It is important that this conference is here in Asia where most of the precursor chemicals are produced and where - as it was pointed out - significant drug production is taking place. If we are to make headway on the drug production situation here and in other regions, we need to have effective international control,” said Douglas.

In Southeast Asia, authorities say Myanmar - also known as Burma - is the region’s largest producer of synthetic drugs, with smugglers trafficking precursor chemicals into the country and then transporting the drugs back across the country’s porous borders to markets in China, Thailand and beyond.

Thailand’s justice minister, Paiboon Koomchaya, said despite concerns over synthetic drugs, there appears to have been little recent progress in controlling precursor chemicals in the region.

“In 2013 we raised awareness of all the countries but we have not come up with a clear measure yet of how the manufacturing countries, importing countries and all the relevant parties - how are we going to control precursor chemicals effectively in our region,” said Koomchaya.

Internet as market place

U.N. drug law enforcement officials say there are hundreds of synthetic drugs - known as new psychoactive substances (NPS), but just 10 have been listed as controlled substances, regulating their sale.

That means that many criminal syndicates use the Internet to market the drugs online, posing a challenge for law enforcement.

UNODC’s Douglas told VOA more domestic controls are needed to control trafficking of precursors in the region.

“This is the heartland - the center point production - Asia is where the precursors are largely coming from,” said Douglas.

Officials meeting in Bangkok are trying to develop a regional policy for dealing with the problem, as well as tighter border controls. The policy plans are being prepared for the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the worldwide drug trafficking problem.