I was recently contacted by a family in the US who asked for my help in visiting their son who is now awaiting sentencing in a large Bangkok prison. His crime?
Intention to sell methamphetamine.
This got me looking deeper into the world of “meth” use in Thailand.
Here is what I found:
According to the US Department of State, Thailand is home to the worst abuse of methamphetamine in the world. The Thai word for meth is “yaa baa” or crazy drug. Little tablets of the substance retail for about 50 baht ($1.20) each making them easily accessible to all Thai people, with the poor and disadvantaged in slum communities especially vulnerable.
In Thailand, the government estimates that an astounding 800 million yaa baa tablets were imported and consumed last year, enough for every man, woman and child in the country to smoke a dozen each! A recent statistic states that at least 1 in 60 people in Thailand are meth users.
Yaa Baa is said to flood the brain with dopamine, the body’s natural pleasure chemical. When people are trying to get off the drug, it is said to have caused permanent mental damage and made people “go crazy.” There is no type of methadone cure to help users get free of it. It’s use is on the rise globally, but especially in Asia because of its ease of production and cost.
Myanmar or Burma, particularly Wa state, is the main producer for the region. The drug sales are used to fuel to Wa state army, a pro-Yangon ethnic group said to operate around 50 laboratories close to the border, as well as mobile production units.
“Alleged links between Myanmar’s military rulers and the UWSA — and the resulting lack of law enforcement — as well as the remote jungle canopy under which the UWSA operate, conspire to make Myanmar an unrivalled regional producer.”
Eighty per cent of illegal drugs enter in from three provinces–Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son– located near the drug production bases. Some of this area being known as the infamous “Golden Triangle” which was and still is in many ways a major center for opium production. It is under the regular surveillance of the Thai military and undercover Thai DEA agents though corruption is said to still be rampant.
A Thai general was quoted recently saying that if they caught 10% of the drugs coming through Bangkok that it would be a good number! You can easily do the math, but that means over 90% is getting through! Yet in 2009 over 135,000 people were arrested in drug related offenses in Thailand. On the street, even urine tests that come up positive can land a person in jail.
It has been noted that unless something is done to counter this trend, “More likely, these countries and societies will have to write off vast swaths of their populations as drug casualties, like the American victims of the ’80s crack epidemic.”
“Counseling facilities are scarce and recovery from drug addiction is still viewed as a matter of willpower and discipline rather than a tenuous and slow spiritual and psychological rebuilding process.”
“In Thailand the few recovery centers suffer from a chronic shortage of staff and beds. While the most powerful tools for fighting addiction in the West 12-step programs derived from Alcoholics Anonymous are available in Asia, their dissemination and implementation do not reach much of the region.”
In one now infamous Aljazeera interview with a Thai military Colonel who runs one of Thailand’s drug treatments camps for young offenders, tells the addicts they should “eat plenty of fish sauce” if they want to get over the addiction. He went on to say, “It replaces calcium and makes you sweat. The drugs come out with your sweat.” This is an example of the lack of understanding and ability to handle the real issues involved.
Use of yaa baa is said to be widespread now in Thailand. Owners of boats in the southern coastal province of Ranong and construction foremen in Bangkok are known to force their workers to take the drug at the beginning of the workday. Occasionally in rural areas, “the farmers dissolve the drug in a bottle which they drink while working. But it is Thailand’s youth who are most at risk. Consumers are as young as seven and “school has become one of the main hubs for trafficking of methamphetamine.
In 2003 then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra instigated a now infamous war on drugs. Thaksin claimed to be doing this in response to a speech from His Majesty The King who called for a solution to the methamphetimine problem that had been plaguing Thailand. Over the next three months over 2,500 people died in what many have called a vigilante style justice handed down by the Thai government.
Now the Shinawatra government led by Thaksin’s younger sister Yingluck is declaring a new way on drugs, but stops short of going back to those dark days of 2003. The Thai laws on drug use, sales, and trafficking are still some of the harshest in the world.
Note to foreigners reading:
If you are coming to Thailand to “party” and use drugs, I have one piece of advice: DON’T! You are taking your life into your own hands. These issues are not as “easy going” in Thailand as you may be presuming. Things are tightening up immensely. You may very well end up in Bangkok’s notorious Klong Prem prison like the American man I mentioned. The Thai authorities would like to make an example of you and I wouldn’t blame them. The drug problem here is bad. It needs to be dealt with strongly and I believe we will see many more arrests in the near future, especially foreigners.
For the Thai suffering under the effects of this “crazy” drug there seems to be little real hope; no good outlook for the future. Taught all of their lives to depend only on themselves, addicts are considered weak and mainly written off for not overcoming the addiction on their own.
It is each man for himself. In the mind some of the religious, it has to do with their own ignorance and karma. They are merely suffering their own predestined fate. No one can really help them.
Or can they?
Sources: Time Article Al Jazeera’s Asia’s Speed Trap Things Asian Article