Opium is Overtaken by a Popular, Pink Pill Drug Report 2015

Opium is overtaken by a popular, pink pill
June 26, 2015 marks this year’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking which was created to stop the production and distribution of drugs. Yet, with this day around the corner, the drug situation in Shan state is worsening. Who is to blame for the ongoing drug production and distribution in Shan state? Who is causing this nation of addicts? According to annual report from the United Nations, Shan State is the second largest opium producer in the world. Of the 55 townships within Shan state, almost no township is without its own source of opium production. During the 2014-2015 seasons, the farmers had difficulty producing their usual supply of opium crops. One reason for this was the recent climate change. In addition, fighting and conflict in the area and decrease in market price rendered them unable to sell the raw product as they had done in the past. As a result, people are now looking for alternative solutions to make money. Growers have turned to making the popular, little, pink pill: methamphetamine. In the communities, methamphetamines have become so commonplace that people are using them as a form of payment for services. Even in ceremonies, these pretty pink pills are served to the attendees in their beverages. Opium Farming in Shan State Shan State is comprised of 55 townships and 29 sub-townships. Of the 55 townships, 4 are under the control of United Wa State Army (UWSA): Pangwai, Narpan, Mongmai and Panghsang and 1 is under the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) with its base in Mongla. Even though it is illegal to plant opium in Burma, each district in Shan state has seen an increase in the drug trade over the past year. Although there were more poppy fields in 2014-2015, the amount produced was low. This is due to severe weather conditions affecting the whole state in the past year.

The Price of Opium 
In the past, the price of opium has never dropped below 800,000 Kyats. Yet, last year the price was unexpectedly scaled down to 450,000 Kyats. One of the causes for this drop is the ongoing fighting in northern Shan State. Opium traders were afraid to go into those areas; as a result, many traders were unable to purchase opium from the farm. Despite last year’s low price, it was still not easy for the farmers to sell their product. Many of them ended up heading to the border in order to make a sale. The cost of opium in some areas has dropped even lower. For example, townships like Tangyan, Monghsu, Lashio, Hsipaw, Kyaukme, Namtu, and Hsenwi had to decrease their price to 300,000 Kayts per viss. Only Nam Mu Se was able to sell their opium for little more than half the normal price at 450,000 Kyats. The farmers in the areas controlled by militia groups seemed to have fared better than others in this economic downturn; this is due to the fact that soldiers often brought them customers. The ethnic armed groups or even the government military got involved in the trade by assisting merchants who wanted to buy opium directly from the farmers. Photo: SHAN farmers collect raw opium

Methamphetamine is Easy to Produce
There is a lot of equipment involved in the complicated process of making opium. To produce opium a lot of space is needed, as well as tight security. On the other hand, methamphetamines can be produced by fewer people and the

The Methamphetamine Market 
Everywhere in Shan State, from small villages in rural areas to populated suburbs and in big cities, methamphetamine pills are available. They can be bought on any street corner. For instance, there is a street specifically designated to drug sellers and users in Lashio Township. Here one can find vendors that offer drugs to be consumed on the spot. A buyer can buy a portion of a pill for a mere 500 Kyat and then is given a lighter and all the materials he needs to smoke it right there. Within Shan’s methamphetamine market, the price and quality of the pill varies greatly. For example, for a relatively low quality pill a buyer can spend as little as 1,500 Kyats. If the buyer wants a better quality high, he can purchase a pill for anywhere between 1,500 Kyats and 2,500 Kyats, with the highest quality pill selling for about 3,000 Kyats. In some townships, like Namtu, Monghsu, Mongkerng, Laikha and Lashio, the pill is only 500 Kyats, making it much cheaper than opium.

The Government’s Involvement with Methamphetamine Production 
For the average resident involved in methamphetamine sales, it is difficult for him to become successful in developing his business. This is due to the likelihood of being caught by law enforcement and thrown in jail. However, for the lucky salesman who has good connections to certain politicians and military officials, business can soar. While ethnic groups who hold a stance against the military can be arrested for drug production and trafficking, those more fortunate groups siding with the military officials seem to have it much easier in growing their business. Before the RCSS/SSA (Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army) concluded a ceasefire agreement with the government, they had been accused of being involved with drug production. Now they are not. Another example is that of the Wa group. These people made a ceasefire agreement with the government 26 years ago, yet recently have requested to become their own state, no longer under the government’s control. Now this ethnic group is being accused of drug trafficking. Most of the current drug production in Shan state happens under government military control.

The Drug Eradication Plan: The Next Five Years 
In 1999, the government created an initiative to eradicate drugs from Burma within 15 years. The plan included 51 townships: 43 in Shan state, 4 in Kachin state, 2 in Karenni state and 2 in Chin state. In Shan state 5 townships have reported that there is no longer drug production taking place within their borders. However, there are still 39 townships remaining in the initiative, 16 of which include the areas with the largest opium production. The plan has proven unsuccessful thus far as there has seemingly been little progress in drug eradication, so the government has extended the plan for the next 5 years. UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) has urged citizens to begin growing seasonal crops instead of opium, yet officials have never visited the areas, rendering them uninformed about the conditions of these locations and

Does Shan State Still Have a Drug Lord?
 During the time when Khun Sa was leading the Shanland United Army (SUA), there were few, if any, restrictions regarding opium production and sales. After Khunsar joined with Sao Korn Zerng and set up the Mong Tai Army, they declared Shan state independent. The government then claimed that Khun Sa was a drug lord and was able to get the U.S.’s assistance in capturing him. Afterwards, Khun Sa stepped down from power and surrendered to the Burmese government, giving them all the weapons he and his troops had obtained throughout the years. In 2013, Sai Naw Kham, a man from Shan state, was also blamed for being a drug lord within the Golden Triangle. He was arrested by the authorities of Laos and was then taken to China to be executed. Although he was a Burmese citizen, Burma never intervened. Despite the execution of Sai Naw Kham and the surrender of Khun Sa, the drug production in Shan state has continued to be a large source of revenue. Many people believe that the ethnic armed groups especially the government controlled militias and politicians are the drug lords of today due to their rumored involvement in the production and sales in Shan state’s borders.

Government Authorities’ Direct Involvement in Drug Situation 
On the 23rd of January 2015, a team of Nam Kham residents, who served as undercover security guards for the community, caught and arrested a police officer who was selling drugs “in order to help his family”. Another similar instance happened in Monghsu Township, when a high ranking official of MAS (Military Affairs Security) got into a physical altercation with a villager after consuming methamphetamines. The official was stabbed with a knife, leaving him Photo: SHAN Police were arrested for drug possession with 30 knife wounds. 7 Many of these high ranking officials get involved in the drug trade to become wealthy

Drugs Cause Family feuds 
On May 12, 2015, Aik Sai, a 36 year old man from Wanloi village in Larngkhur Township, took methamphetamines and then stabbed his father and his younger brother with a knife. His brother died immediately at the scene. A similar case happened on March 29, 2015 in Tangyan Township when Sai Maunggyi, who had earlier consumed methamphetamines, stabbed his wife. She died immediately. He then attempted to kill his son and his father-in-law, but fortunately neighbors intervened. Sai Maunggyi resorted to suicide.

Citizens Unite to Prevent Drug Trafficking 
The government set up the Drug Watch program to help prevent the spread of drugs in Burma. These special police forces tend to the arrest of individuals who are merely the local salesmen of the trade; they have yet to bring charges against the big producers who are in charge of the production and sales. Within the ethnic groups, there exists similar programs which end up arresting the drug users, who are the victims of this lucrative trade. They have also established rehabilitation centers to help these addicts. In some townships residents create campaigns aimed at preventing drug use among youths. For instance The Tai Youth Network Group, provides suggestions to avoid falling victim to the drug trade as well as assistance to those who already have.

Conclusion: What’s the Solution to Our Problem?
If the fighting persists, and the people of Burma continue to exist among chaos, it will be difficult for us to find a viable solution to the current drug problem. Because of the armed conflict, outside investors are able to exploit on the situation to setup their drug production and trade. Families are having difficulty providing for each other, so they end up involved in the drug trade. Even government servants, who subsist on low wages, enter the trade to help supplement their income.