Proposal to decriminalise ‘meth’ stirs controversy in Thailand

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Ya ba seizure ThailandThailand, a country were methamphetamine, or “meth,” is widely consumed under the street retail name of “ya ba,” is seeking ways to decriminalise the drug in order to eliminate long-standing problems in society related to it, namely drug trade and stigmatisation of drug users, as well as to ease prison overcrowding with dealers and consumers and to facilitate drug abusers’ access to rehabilitation

According to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, Thailand agreed to consider the decriminalisation of “some drugs” such as methamphetamine in response to a new perspective on the issue raised at the recent United Nations General Assembly Special Session.

He said that authorities are studying the concept to remove meth from category 1, the most serious substance in the controlled substances list. That way, it could be made available as a prescription drug or even be sold over the counter in pharmacies in small amounts.

The proposal involves an amended version of the narcotics law which would in effect destigmatise both drug users and small-time sellers to allow them to re-integrate into society. It, however, states that punishments remains unchanged for drug dealers and those in possession of 15 methamphetamine pills or more.

But, either way, removing meth from the illegal narcotics list would be a “challenging task,” Prayut said.

While a number of countries have seen good results in decriminalising the sale and use of marijuana and other substances seen as less dangerous, fewer experiences have been made in the case of meth. Most countries treat the drug as illegal for possession, sale, transport and production. In Italy, it is only allowed for personal use and in research, while in the US it is legal if it is prescribed at the federal level, and medicinal enforcement varies by jurisdiction.

“A policy that works in one country might not work in another,” Prayut said, adding that “each country has different political and social conditions.”

If meth would be removed from the dangerous drugs list, it would not be clear what would happen as a result, he argued. While some countries met success in curbing the scourge of drugs by focusing on harm reduction rather than a total crackdown, things might work differently in Thailand. Some even believe it will make the drug situation far worse.

But there is consensus that Thailand’s current drug policy is widely a failure. Drug use has grown exponentially in the past decade and a half, only slowed down shortly by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s so-called “war on drugs” which killed 2,500 petty dealers and innocent bystanders and did nothing to stamp out the root problem of drug trafficking.

Currently, Thailand’s tackling of the drug problem revolves around taking drug abusers and some petty corner peddlers from the street to prison from where they return to the street immediately after release. While certain amounts of ya ba pills are seized in regular raids and are proudly displayed in the media, it remains just a small portion of the volume really trafficked. Last year, Thai authorities said they seized around one billion of ya ba tablets, while the number of users increased yet again.

Currently, drug users and small dealers, many of whom are poor, are the ones most likely to face harsh punishment such as imprisonment for possession of meth. But the law does not provide an enabling environment for drug abusers to come forward and seek treatment as they fear being penalised by society due to the stigma that comes with the drug.

Furthermore, the grease of Thailand’s drug trade is in fact corruption at all levels, within the law enforcement itself until up to highly influential people. There are opaque networks collaborating with meth factories over the border in Myanmar and Laos, as well as with customs, drug mules and distributors. Ya ba is openly dealt on busy streets in Bangkok and in tourism centers across the country, and it is a huge problem in drug-ridden communities like the infamous Klong Toey slum in Bangkok and other large slums, namely in parts of Samut Prakan and Pathum Thani. It is also widely used in the impoverished province of Isaan in the northeast.

ya-ba

Ya Ba in Thailand explained

Ya Ba are small tablets (about 6 millimeters in diameter) that come in different colours and shapes, usually in pink, red, orange or lime green, and they may have letters stamped on them. They are so small they can be carried in plastic dispensing mint containers, or even be packed in straws. The pills can be swallowed orally or smoked on aluminum foil and the fumes inhaled.

Active ingredients of the drug are methamphetamine and caffeine. When the tablet is taken orally the effects can last up to 16 hours (smoked 1-4 hours) and cause sleeplessness and curb hunger, which explains why users appear to have a lot of energy and can go out to dance all night, for example.

However, ya ba is highly addictive, and long-term users would take as many as 10 tablets a day. It used to be an inexpensive drug years ago at about 40 baht ($1.10) per pill which explained its popularity in poorer neighbourhoods. But after repeated crackdowns, the street price multiplied and rose to between 400 and 500 baht per pill ($11 to $14), while some foreigners have reportedly been asked for up to 700 baht ($19) for one pill by street dealers.

Most of the ya ba is produced in Myanmar in jungle laboratories set up by ethnic militias and rebel groups in collaboration with parts of the Myanmar army in the Golden Triangle and the northeastern Shan state. Some are also located in northern Laos. Reportedly, building such laboratories just requires an initial investment of around $40,000 each in equipment, which makes them highly profitable ventures.

The drug is then smuggled across the border into Thailand and distributed throughout the country mainly via Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

The long term effects of ya ba abuse can be serious and include paranoia, aggressiveness, tremors, confusion or irritability, pain in the kidney or liver area and decline of cognitive functions.

History of the substance

Methamphetamine is a substitute of amphetamine, a potent central nervous system stimulant first discovered by a German chemist in 1887. It has later been synthetised by Japanese pharmacologists into its present chemical form. The drug’s first broader use was in World War II under the trademark “Pervitin” when it was given to German air force pilots as a stimulant and to increase wakefulness during flights. It became known as Herman Göhring pills (named after the high-ranking Nazi politician in the 1940s) or “pilot chocolate.” In the 1950 and 1960s, it was sold as “Obetrol” in the US and became a popular diet pill until its addictive features became apparent. The pills were withdrawn from the market in 1972 and declared a controlled substance in the US. Later on, production, distribution, sale, and possession of methamphetamine was restricted or made illegal in many countries.

However, methamphetamine is still produced and sold under the trade name “Desoxyn,” first by Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck and since 2013 by Italian company Recordati.

Italy is the only country where possession of methamphetamine is legal for personal use. Possession is not legal, but has been widely decriminalised in the Czech Republic, Portugal and the Netherlands, while possession, sale, transport and production are legal in Hong Kong and the US if medically (prescription necessary) or scientifically indicated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thailand, a country were methamphetamine, or "meth," is widely consumed under the street retail name of "ya ba," is seeking ways to decriminalise the drug in order to eliminate long-standing problems in society related to it, namely drug trade and stigmatisation of drug users, as well as to ease prison overcrowding with dealers and consumers and to facilitate drug abusers' access to rehabilitation According to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, Thailand agreed to consider the decriminalisation of "some drugs" such as methamphetamine in response to a new perspective on the issue raised at the recent United Nations General Assembly Special Session....

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Ya ba seizure ThailandThailand, a country were methamphetamine, or “meth,” is widely consumed under the street retail name of “ya ba,” is seeking ways to decriminalise the drug in order to eliminate long-standing problems in society related to it, namely drug trade and stigmatisation of drug users, as well as to ease prison overcrowding with dealers and consumers and to facilitate drug abusers’ access to rehabilitation

According to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, Thailand agreed to consider the decriminalisation of “some drugs” such as methamphetamine in response to a new perspective on the issue raised at the recent United Nations General Assembly Special Session.

He said that authorities are studying the concept to remove meth from category 1, the most serious substance in the controlled substances list. That way, it could be made available as a prescription drug or even be sold over the counter in pharmacies in small amounts.

The proposal involves an amended version of the narcotics law which would in effect destigmatise both drug users and small-time sellers to allow them to re-integrate into society. It, however, states that punishments remains unchanged for drug dealers and those in possession of 15 methamphetamine pills or more.

But, either way, removing meth from the illegal narcotics list would be a “challenging task,” Prayut said.

While a number of countries have seen good results in decriminalising the sale and use of marijuana and other substances seen as less dangerous, fewer experiences have been made in the case of meth. Most countries treat the drug as illegal for possession, sale, transport and production. In Italy, it is only allowed for personal use and in research, while in the US it is legal if it is prescribed at the federal level, and medicinal enforcement varies by jurisdiction.

“A policy that works in one country might not work in another,” Prayut said, adding that “each country has different political and social conditions.”

If meth would be removed from the dangerous drugs list, it would not be clear what would happen as a result, he argued. While some countries met success in curbing the scourge of drugs by focusing on harm reduction rather than a total crackdown, things might work differently in Thailand. Some even believe it will make the drug situation far worse.

But there is consensus that Thailand’s current drug policy is widely a failure. Drug use has grown exponentially in the past decade and a half, only slowed down shortly by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s so-called “war on drugs” which killed 2,500 petty dealers and innocent bystanders and did nothing to stamp out the root problem of drug trafficking.

Currently, Thailand’s tackling of the drug problem revolves around taking drug abusers and some petty corner peddlers from the street to prison from where they return to the street immediately after release. While certain amounts of ya ba pills are seized in regular raids and are proudly displayed in the media, it remains just a small portion of the volume really trafficked. Last year, Thai authorities said they seized around one billion of ya ba tablets, while the number of users increased yet again.

Currently, drug users and small dealers, many of whom are poor, are the ones most likely to face harsh punishment such as imprisonment for possession of meth. But the law does not provide an enabling environment for drug abusers to come forward and seek treatment as they fear being penalised by society due to the stigma that comes with the drug.

Furthermore, the grease of Thailand’s drug trade is in fact corruption at all levels, within the law enforcement itself until up to highly influential people. There are opaque networks collaborating with meth factories over the border in Myanmar and Laos, as well as with customs, drug mules and distributors. Ya ba is openly dealt on busy streets in Bangkok and in tourism centers across the country, and it is a huge problem in drug-ridden communities like the infamous Klong Toey slum in Bangkok and other large slums, namely in parts of Samut Prakan and Pathum Thani. It is also widely used in the impoverished province of Isaan in the northeast.

ya-ba

Ya Ba in Thailand explained

Ya Ba are small tablets (about 6 millimeters in diameter) that come in different colours and shapes, usually in pink, red, orange or lime green, and they may have letters stamped on them. They are so small they can be carried in plastic dispensing mint containers, or even be packed in straws. The pills can be swallowed orally or smoked on aluminum foil and the fumes inhaled.

Active ingredients of the drug are methamphetamine and caffeine. When the tablet is taken orally the effects can last up to 16 hours (smoked 1-4 hours) and cause sleeplessness and curb hunger, which explains why users appear to have a lot of energy and can go out to dance all night, for example.

However, ya ba is highly addictive, and long-term users would take as many as 10 tablets a day. It used to be an inexpensive drug years ago at about 40 baht ($1.10) per pill which explained its popularity in poorer neighbourhoods. But after repeated crackdowns, the street price multiplied and rose to between 400 and 500 baht per pill ($11 to $14), while some foreigners have reportedly been asked for up to 700 baht ($19) for one pill by street dealers.

Most of the ya ba is produced in Myanmar in jungle laboratories set up by ethnic militias and rebel groups in collaboration with parts of the Myanmar army in the Golden Triangle and the northeastern Shan state. Some are also located in northern Laos. Reportedly, building such laboratories just requires an initial investment of around $40,000 each in equipment, which makes them highly profitable ventures.

The drug is then smuggled across the border into Thailand and distributed throughout the country mainly via Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

The long term effects of ya ba abuse can be serious and include paranoia, aggressiveness, tremors, confusion or irritability, pain in the kidney or liver area and decline of cognitive functions.

History of the substance

Methamphetamine is a substitute of amphetamine, a potent central nervous system stimulant first discovered by a German chemist in 1887. It has later been synthetised by Japanese pharmacologists into its present chemical form. The drug’s first broader use was in World War II under the trademark “Pervitin” when it was given to German air force pilots as a stimulant and to increase wakefulness during flights. It became known as Herman Göhring pills (named after the high-ranking Nazi politician in the 1940s) or “pilot chocolate.” In the 1950 and 1960s, it was sold as “Obetrol” in the US and became a popular diet pill until its addictive features became apparent. The pills were withdrawn from the market in 1972 and declared a controlled substance in the US. Later on, production, distribution, sale, and possession of methamphetamine was restricted or made illegal in many countries.

However, methamphetamine is still produced and sold under the trade name “Desoxyn,” first by Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck and since 2013 by Italian company Recordati.

Italy is the only country where possession of methamphetamine is legal for personal use. Possession is not legal, but has been widely decriminalised in the Czech Republic, Portugal and the Netherlands, while possession, sale, transport and production are legal in Hong Kong and the US if medically (prescription necessary) or scientifically indicated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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