The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 September 2011, Lindsay Murdoch

BANGKOK: Thailand's new Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is mobilising a crackdown on illegal drugs as a United Nations agency reveals a massive increase in the production and use of amphetamines across Asia.

The crackdown comes eight years after a ''war on drugs'' overseen by Ms Yingluck's older brother Thaksin Shinawatra during which almost 3000 Thais involved with drugs were killed by still unidentified assassins.

But this time Ms Yingluck said drug addicts would be treated as patients so they can later return to society. ''As a mother, I do not want to see children fall victim to drugs,'' she said.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Regional Centre for East Asia and the Pacific warned that the manufacture of amphetamine-type substances has undergone an industrial revolution, outstripping the use of heroin and cocaine as organised crime groups have become involved in their manufacture and distribution.

At least 50 organised crime groups are involved in trafficking drugs from Burma, a major source of the region's methamphetamine pills, the agency said. The number of methamphetamine pills seized in south-east Asia grew from 32 million in 2008 to 133 million last year, it said in its three-yearly report on the global use of amphetamine-type substances, including ecstasy, that was released in Bangkok.

Amphetamines are attractive to millions of drugs users because they are affordable, convenient to use and are often associated with a modern and dynamic lifestyle, the report said. ''The risks are often underestimated in public perception,'' it said.

The report also warned of the emergence of so-called analogue substances that fall outside the control of international law enforcement agencies.

The substances sold as ''bath salts'' or ''plant food'' are used as substitutes for illegal drugs such as cocaine or ecstasy.

Australian authorities seized 602 illegal drug laboratories in 2009-10, the highest number of seizures in five years, the report said, but ecstasy seizures in Australian have hit a five-year low.

In Thailand, Mr Chalerm tried to head off human rights groups' concerns that there would be a repeat of the extrajudicial killings during the Thaksin anti-drugs campaign launched in 2003.

''There will be no licence to kill involved and there is no need to increase the severity of sentences,'' Mr Chalerm said. ''It will be up the court to decide which sentence is appropriate.'' An independent committee that investigated the killings in 2007 found the campaign was driven by political goals rather than respecting human rights and due process of law.

Human rights groups also have criticised the use of compulsory drug treatment centres where up to 15,000 Thai drug users are sent each year.

The centres are based on boot camp-style physical exercise and provide little or no medical supervision or medication, they say. Mr Thaksin, who is living in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid a two-year jail sentence for corruption, is due to fly to Cambodia on Friday, one day after an official visit to Phnom Penh by Ms Yingluck.

Mr Thaksin is a former financial adviser to the Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen.

Analysts in Bangkok say Mr Thaksin's return to Thailand would stoke renewed political tensions in the country.

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