Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), particularly methamphetamine, commonly known as ecstasy, are the drugs most widely abused in East and South-East Asia and have displaced the use of traditional narcotics such as heroin, opium and cannabis, according to a United Nations report released today.
According to the latest report on ATS by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), between 3.4 million and 20.7 million people in the region have used amphetamines in the past year " a sizeable number of the estimated 14 million to 53 million global users " and a worrying health and law enforcement concern.
The increased manufacture and use of ATS is a worrying trend and a growing health challenge for the region, " Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, says in the report. While overall development levels in many countries are climbing, and the lives of millions are improving, the spread of ATS use is a sad " and unnecessary " situation and one which must be tackled with immediate urgency, " he added.
The report, entitled Patterns and Trends of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants and Other Drugs: Asia and the Pacific ", provides a consolidated review of the current developments with regard to the illicit manufacturing, trafficking and use of ATS in Asia and the Pacific.
The study indicates that in recent years these drugs have become an increasingly widespread health and organized crime threat in Asia and the Pacific. In South Asia in particular, large legal chemical and pharmaceutical industries offer organized criminal groups an attractive base from where to manufacture and market ATS, according to the report.
The report highlights the spread of ATS " a market which includes amphetamine, methamphetamine, methcathinone, and other ecstasy-group substances, and one which generates enormous global revenues.
It also highlighted the continued growth in the use and trafficking of ketamine in East and South-East Asia. As a cheaper alternative to drugs such as ecstasy, and with wide availability due to its medical uses, the growth in this drug is a worrying trend, the UNODC report says.
Last year, 6.9 tons of ketamine were seized in the region, up from 6.3 tons the previous year. About 85 per cent of global ketamine seizures were made in East and South-East Asia in 2009, with the use of this drug reportedly increasing in several countries and territories, with Hong Kong (SAR) now listing ketamine as its primary drug of use.
Regrettably, drug treatment services for users of ATS and other synthetic drugs in many parts of Asia and the Pacific are under-resourced and unable to keep up with the increasing number of ATS users, the report points out.
Most drug treatment services in the region are still aimed at users of heroin, opium and cannabis despite this shift toward ATS use.
In Cambodia and Japan for instance, 50 per cent of drug users in the country`s drug treatment centres receive treatment for methamphetamines, while in the Philippines the figure is 59 per cent. In Thailand, 82 per cent or more than 4 out of every 5 drug users who received drug treatment in 2009 were treated for methamphetamine pill use.
Home to roughly one-third of the world`s population, East and South-East Asia`s heightened prosperity and accelerated movement of persons, trade and goods has, in recent years, lifted millions out of poverty.
Unfortunately, the liberalization and trade and the reduced transportation costs have also led to increased opportunities for criminal organizations, including the production and trafficking of illicit drugs, the report notes.