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Golden Triangle’s drug production expands amid opioid concerns

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JAKARTA Organised crime groups are expanding and diversifying drug production in South-east Asia's Golden Triangle amid fears the region could emerge as a hub for synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Asia Pacific counter-narcotics police met in Myanmar's capital Naypyitaw yesterday to negotiate a new strategy to strangle the supply of chemicals used in synthetic drug production.

The Golden Triangle, which includes parts of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, has exported illicit drugs to the world for decades.

While opium cultivation and heroin trafficking has slumped in recent years, synthetic drug manufacturing - especially methamphetamine - has soared.

UNODC regional representative Jeremy Douglas said the boom was "like nothing we have ever seen before, and it has required a matching surge in precursor chemicals".

Seizures of methamphetamine sourced from the region have leapt since 2016.

The price of methamphetamine has fallen in many countries according to UNODC data, indicating that large amounts of synthetic drugs are hitting the streets undetected by law enforcers.

"While we are a significant source of illicit drugs, we are not a source of the chemicals," said Myanmar Vice-Minister of Home Affairs Aung Thu in a press release.

The flow of precursor chemicals to Myanmar has continued mainly unimpeded.

Precursors come mostly from China, though significant volumes of chemicals and cutting agents from India, Pakistan, Vietnam and Thailand have been detected in Myanmar.

Drug gangs are starting to produce ketamine in Myanmar, a drug that requires different technical expertise to produce than methamphetamine, said Mr Douglas.

"There is increasing concern among officials here that they will soon go into manufacturing synthetic opioids," he told Reuters. "Given their sophistication, we think it is only a matter of time they do it." - REUTERS

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