Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions on mobility of trade and transport, the methamphetamine market in East and Southeast Asia has continued to expand. While Shan State, Myanmar, remains the main source of illicit manufacture of methamphetamine in the region, there are growing signs that Cambodia is being increasingly targeted for large- scale illicit methamphetamine manufacture, showing organized crime diversifying their methamphetamine supply channels.
As for the past decade, the total amount of methamphetamine seized in East and Southeast Asia has continued to increase, reaching another record level in 2020 with preliminary data showing at least 169 tons of methamphetamine seized. Though there was a decline in seizures in East Asia, it was more than offset by the increase in seizures in Southeast Asia, largely due to the lower Mekong countries,1 which accounted for 71 per cent of the total amount of methamphetamine seized in East and Southeast Asia.
Several trafficking routes have emerged, and seizures of methamphetamine point to diversified sources of the substance. Lao PDR has been increasingly targeted for transit and trafficking of methamphetamine and its related chemicals, as indicated by sharp increases in seizures of the drug along the border between Lao PDR and northeastern Thailand. Sources of methamphetamine have diversified beyond Shan State, Myanmar, with reports of methamphetamine being trafficked to the region from West Asia and South Africa.
COVID-19 and its associated mobility restrictions resulted in only a short-lived disruption to the supply of and demand for methamphetamine. Available quarterly data from both East and Southeast Asia show a drop in seizures in the second quarter of 2020 during the height of the pandemic. However, seizures quickly rebounded from the third quarter onwards, demonstrating the flexibility of organized crime groups to adapt to change and take advantage of porous borders in the region. Wholesale prices of crystalline methamphetamine declined in several countries in Southeast Asia, namely Cambodia, Malaysia, and Thailand, while its purity remained stable, indicating limited impact on the availability of methamphetamine.