TOKYO, May 20- Strong and growing demand for drugs in Asia is driving up global production of methamphetamine, with seizures in the region tripling in five years to record levels, a UN body said Tuesday.
Both the use and the production of the drug is increasing, in line with the expanding economy of the world’s most populous continent, leading to growing social problems and higher healthcare bills.
Methamphetamine, also called “meth” and “ice”, is an extremely addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system.
Chronic use can lead to mood disturbances, violent behaviour and symptoms of psychosis such as paranoia and hallucinations.
To compile the latest report, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) grouped together methamphetamine, amphetamine and other similar chemicals as “amphetamine type stimulants” or ATS.
It excluded so called “ecstasy” drugs, which are usually reported separately in drug surveys.
“Over the years, methamphetamine seizures have been predominantly reported in East and Southeast Asia, in countries such as China, Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand,” the Office said ahead of the report’s launch in Tokyo.
Asia has long been the world’s largest market for methamphetamine and drug dealers are targeting its rapid economic success, the UN body said.
Roughly a third of the estimated $90 billion illegal economy in Asia comes from drugs, said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC regional representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“The region has had a longstanding problem with methamphetamine use,” he said.
“It originated as a drug that was taken by poor people, traditionally workers. That migrated into youth culture over a decade ago,” he said. “More recently, that has evolved into a growing prosperous youth culture.
“You have rising incomes occurring across the region. You have large, large youth population. So you have natural growth of the market” which has attracted criminals from around the world, Douglas said.
Seizures of ATS related drugs tripled in Asia to at least 36 tonnes per year in the five years to 2012, the Office said.
China has had particularly severe problems, it said. In 2008 Chinese authorities seized six tonnes of methamphetamine.
That figure soared to more than 16 tonnes in 2012, accounting for about 45 percent of total methamphetamine seizures for Asia that year, the UNODC said.