Thailand Has A Major Drug Abuse Crisis

A News Summary By Terence T. Gorski

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On March 10, 20001 the Associated Press reported that Thailand is developing a national strategy to deal with the crisis being caused by both a growing rate of addiction and drug trafficking.  The new anti-drug strategies will be aimed at the 6 to 7 percent of Thailand's 61 million people are addicted to drugs, mainly the illegal stimulant methamphetamine, and the drug dealers who supply them.

Shinawatra Thaksin, who took office last month,  made the comments in opening a 1 1/2-day meeting of top government officials aimed at forming new anti-drug strategies.  The meeting was being held under tight security in Chiang Rai, 422 miles north of Bangkok, in the Golden Triangle region where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.  The Golden Triangle is historically a center for production and trafficking of opium and its derivative heroin, but in recent years has become a major source of methamphetamine, now Thailand's biggest drug problem.

Thaksin said in his speech that Thailand needed ``a special strategy to tackle the drug problem.''  `We have to think that this is the vital mission of the country and it is a war,'' he said.  The new strategies will focus upon supply reduction through the use of military and   police tactics.  A major focus may be on neighboring Myanmar, believed to be the source of the lion's share of methamphetamine and heroin entering Thailand.  The Thai army reported that Mong Yawn is a town just inside Myanmar that is said to have been built with drug money and is a major center of the drug trade.  The town is controlled by the United Wa State Army, an ethnic guerrilla group believed to be the kingpins of the regional drug trade.

Thai officials said that he would bring the matter up with Myanmar's government. Thai and other drug experts say that country's military regime turns a blind eye to drug production and trafficking as a way of ensuring peace among ethnic groups, who have been in active conflict for decades.

The seriousness of the issue was underlined recently when drug traffickers were named among the possible suspects in the bombing of a Thai Airways jet on which Thaksin was due to travel.  The Thai Airways Boeing 737-400 was destroyed on the tarmac at Bangkok airport, minutes before Thaksin and 148 other passengers were to board a flight for the northern city of Chiang Mai. One crew member was killed and seven other airline staff were injured. Police have still not made any arrests in the case, although officials have suggested a business conflict unrelated to the prime minister might be involved.

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