, 29 November 2011, by Xihua

Public health and security in east and southeast Asia is threatened by a surge of methamphetamine use, production and trafficking, a UN agency on drugs and crime warned Tuesday.

East Asia and South-East Asia are major centers for the illicit manufacture of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS). Increasing involvement of transnational organized criminal groups in ATS drug trade pose a growing security threat in the region, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

"The numbers are heading in the wrong direction. We must be pro-active on all fronts to assist the countries of the region to counteract these threats and prevent East and South-East Asia from again becoming a major illicit drugs hub," said Gary Lewis, regional representative of the UNODC.

The ATS ranks the top three most used drugs in all 15 countries surveyed in the region. Use of ATS increased in ten of the surveyed countries during 2010, according to the report.

In addition, the use of crystalline methamphetamine has expanded to countries which had not previously reported it such as Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

Methamphetamine seizures in 2010 reached 136 million pills a fourfold increase over the 32 million seized in 2008, the report wrote. The "staggering increase in seizures" reflected burgeoning production as most of the pills seized were produced within the region.

Moreover, 442 ATS-related laboratories were busted in 2010 in East and South-East Asia representing a nearly five-fold rise since 2006.

Expanding methamphetamine use also fuelled a sharp increase in methamphetamine-related arrests.

In 2010, nearly 218,000 arrests in the region involved methamphetamine, a 19 percent increase on the previous year. Methamphetamine accounted for 87 percent of all drug-related arrests in Brunei Darussalam, 83 percent in Japan, 80 percent in Thailand, 77 percent in the Philippines and 70 percent in the Republic of Korea, according to statistics from the UNODC.

The surge of ATS drugs, which causes various psychotic disorders, brings greater demand for treatment, the report wrote.

"Drug dependence is a chronic relapsing health condition which should be treated in the health sector based on scientific evidence and on each individual's treatment needs," Lewis said. " We need more motivational, cognitive-behavioral and case-management approaches. The vast majority of people can be efficiently treated on an out-patient basis."

Keep up-to-date with drug policy developments by subscribing to the IDPC Monthly Alert