Opioid crisis may be on its way to Asia

Jul 3, 2020

Early in May, Myanmar police announced a record drug bust, seizing the largest-ever haul of liquid fentanyl. As part of the raid, a total of 33 individuals were arrested, including Burmese nationals. This was the first official record of seizure of fentanyl in the Golden Triangle.

“The drug trade in Shan State operates more freely amid Covid-19 because police are busy with other things. The price of all kinds of drugs has dropped, and it shows the trade is easier because of Covid-19.”

U Tin Maung Thein, the district president of the Myanmar Anti-Narcotics Association.

As part of the raid, 3,700 liters of methyl fentanyl were seized in the Shan State, the drug producing region of Myanmar. Although ongoing heroin trade has been well documented in Asia, synthetic opioids are new to the region, while health experts have expressed concerns of a potential new opioid epidemic.

The drug raid was part of Myanmar’s joint operation with the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). “We are well aware of the challenges we face… Criminal groups, traffickers and corrupt accomplices must and will be brought to justice,” said Colonel Zaw Lin, law enforcement chief at Myanmar’s Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control.

Aside from unprecedented quantities of methyl fentanyl, raid findings included crystal methamphetamine disguised in green tea bags, heroin, opium and morphine. In addition, a total of 17.5 tonnes of methamphetamine pills known as “yaba” were seized, equalling the amount seized in the previous two years in Myanmar.

Moreover, vast quantities of chemicals to serve as drug precursors were seized, in addition to lab equipment which had been transported through China, India, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. 

“What has been unearthed through this operation is truly off the charts… We have been projecting this scenario for a few years, and we are now able to say it is happening,” said Jeremy Douglas, the regional representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific at the UNODC.