The Drug Issue in Southeast Asia: THE Golden Triangle

November 13, 2017
Solace Sabah

The Drug Issue in Southeast Asia: The Latest Updates from the Golden Triangle.

The Golden Triangle is a location in mainland Southeast Asia. It consists of the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos.  These countries meet in the interior highlands of continental Southeast Asia. This area is porous, remote, and is the second largest producer of Opium in the world. Additionally, it is also a gateway to other drugs such as Methamphetamines.

CIA Drug Trafficking Routes.
CIA Map of Drug Trafficking Routes (Wikipedia)

Matters are getting worse for this region because the demand never stops. Drug tourism in this region is rife. Also, the demand for opium products is on the increase in China by the millions. These factors contribute to an upsurge in drug demand within the triangle. There's every reason for locals to support the industry and nothing much to support the industry and nothing much to hold them back. 

How bad is it?

In the past ten years, things were looking up for this region. Chinese investment and switch cultivation were turning poppy cultivated fields into agricultural farmlands. But, recently, things have taken a turn for the worse.

Myanmar's poppy cultivation took up 150,000 acres in 2015. From July to September of the same year, authorities in Yangon seized 26 million tablets of methamphetamines and 1.5 tonnes of marijuana. In Laos, the UNODC (United Nations Office of Drug on Drugs and Crime) reported since 2007 and in 2010, the area under opium cultivation rose by 58% per year.

These figures are telling a story of despair for the region. As frightening as they are, it is only the tip of an expanding iceberg. We have not delved into the cycle of powerlessness experienced by the locals of the region. The stigma of local addicts is one tale. The unavailability of significant help is another.  The incongruence between drug eradication and aid is another one. And the list goes on.

This article will look into the situation in Myanmar. We will assess why this country's commitment to becoming drug-free has failed.

The Situation in Myanmar

Mualpi Poppy Golden Traingle
‍View of Mualpi and the mountains where villagers grow poppy crop

The village of Mualpi houses 175 households. It lies amid the poppy growing farmlands of Myanmar's interior. There, the village elders ask people to swallow dark, gooey pellets of Opium. Even members of non-government organisations (NGOs) are not relieved from this request.

These people are proud of their opium product. Their poppy farms dot the landscape with light green patches. This poses a major problem for Myanmar as the country accounts for 25% of the total production of opium. It has become the second largest opium producer in the world after Afghanistan. 

Why has opium production increased to such levels in Myanmar? 

First of all, Myanmar experiences poverty. According to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNHDR), the country ranks 150/187. This makes it one of the poorest countries in the world. Its poor state drives its people to find other means of supporting themselves.

Agriculture is not as lucrative and fast-growing as opium. When the government threatened to destroy the poppy growing farms, the farmers retaliated. They reasoned that to lose the poppy farms would add to their increasing debt. Thus, it forced them to increase the production of opium to make up for deficits.

Opium production is another story.  It's easy and fast to grow. Its revenue is lucrative, and there is always a demand for it. The demand for Heroin, a byproduct of opium, is growing at a rate of 70% in China. Its market value is USD$340 Million or GBP220 Million. With drug tourism and the Chinese demand for drugs on the rise, opium doesn't seem to be going out of date anytime. 

The government's struggles with ethnic rebels have been an ongoing problem. It has created lawlessness in the country's interior. As a result, opium production flourishes without much impediment. The New York Times ran a series of exposures on opium production and Heroin addiction in Myanmar.  It found out that conflict-torn states like Kachin and Shan were more vulnerable to opium than other places. 

Furthermore, Myanmar has not been able to meet the drug problem in a realistic fashion. The government is approaching the problem from an aggressive stance. It has gone about destroying the source of narcotics but has not addressed the underlying issues. Poverty, poor infrastructure, and uplifting the social conditions of the provinces would help.

Addiction is also rife in the country, yet, the stigma of addiction leaves the addict in a rut. In general, the people of Myanmar despise addicts. What hope could a poor citizen of Myanmar get from being in such powerlessness?

As with everything, there is always a push and a pull factor. What's pushing Myanmar citizens away from legitimate work is the lack of opportunities. At the same time, there's much going for the farmer of poppy fields. It goes from saying,  that unless one dedicates to a higher ideal, there is no reason to give up opium production.

That said, the government has provided minimal help to the still suffering addict. Government run treatment centres do treat addicts insofar as detoxification. With international support, Myanmar has adopted MST (Methadone Substitution Therapy) for detoxification. It has benefitted 10,000 users.  But, when the addict leaves treatment, there's no reason to stay sober. With limited resources available, relapses and rebounding take root after a few months.

There are also faith-based private rehabs in Myanmar. For example, one man who has developed one of these is Pastor Philip Suang Kho Thang. He was once a carpenter in Tonzang. He used to grow opium. But, he stopped because he did not want his children to become addicted. A noble cause, he believes that his rehab could help bring hope for the addict.

It has been difficult for him because he had to give up seeking the easy money found in producing opium. He says that he still misses having money when someone in the family gets sick or when the kids want a new toy.  The rehab uses religion to reconnect addicts to a higher purpose to stop the addiction.

The Solution for the problem. 

The solution to the drug problem is well-being. The welfare of the poor needs addressing. This includes proper infrastructures, development of agriculture, and medical and health improvements. At the same time, it also means resolving age-old conflicts. For drug addiction grows amid the depressive state of affairs.

The Golden Triangle's upsurge in opium production is a testament to misery.  People are beings of well-being. Give them something to look forward to, the need for opium production would go by the wayside. Its increase by 22%, which is 18% of global production is the result of strife.

Additionally, addicts need proper treatment. International rehabs do exist in Thailand. But, they are too expensive for the local addict. It's these people, stuck in poverty and involved in drug production, that need help.

Unlike the western rehabs that fit western clients, there is an Asian rehab of equal value. Solace Sabah, located in Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo is a Malaysian owned rehab. We use Western scientific methods to treat this problem. A vast majority of our clients are local Malaysians. In that sense, we are helping our people.  There is a way out of this dilemma, and it starts with the addict. There are benefits to being clean and sober. You may read more about that here

References

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-34268572

http://thediplomat.com/2015/09/solving-southeast-asias-drug-problem/

http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2011/07/laos-and-drugs-trade

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/06/poppylands-understanding-myanmar-addiction-heroin-160619114736853.html

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