Pubdate: Tue, 19 Sep 2006
Source: Australian, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2006sThe Australian
Author: Cameron Stewart
Note: Cameron Stewart is an associate editor of The Australian.
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Women)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Rising Affluence In The Asia-Pacific Region Has Led To A Growing 
Population Of Young Middle-Class Drug Users Fed By Booming Illicit 
Domestic Markets, Writes Cameron Stewart

WHEN the North Korean ship the Pong Su mysteriously appeared off the 
Victorian coast in 2003 to dump its deadly haul of heroin here, 
authorities hoped it was a one-off crime, a brazen act by a desperate 
nation. That now seems unlikely. A significant new report, obtained 
exclusively by The Australian, shows Australia is almost certain to 
be targeted by other heroin ships.

What's more, it reveals there is a ghostly armada of Pong Sus out 
there today, plying the waters of Asia and the Pacific carrying drugs 
to unsuspecting victims around the world.

In one of the most chilling studies of its kind, the Australian 
National Council on Drugs, the principal advisory body to the federal 
Government on drug policy, has taken a rare and comprehensive 
snapshot of the Asia-Pacific region.

Its 215-page report finds that, despite record numbers of 
drug-related arrests, the region is awash with illicit drugs, from 
heroin to amphetamines to schoolyard glue.

These drugs are being aggressively sought by a new generation of 
Asians, the rising affluent middle-class youth, and are being peddled 
by the dirt poor who are increasingly left behind by economic development.

Meanwhile, the region's drug barons have pioneered brazen new routes 
to deliver their deadly cargo to victims.

Gino Vumbaca, ANCD's executive officer, says the report debunks the 
commonly held notion in Australia that Asia is only a supplier of 
drugs, rather than a heavy user.

"The number of illicit drug users throughout the Asian region has 
increased dramatically over the past decade," he says. "There is now 
a very strong domestic market for illicit drug use in Asian countries."

The ANCD report says "the amount of illicit drugs now produced in 
Asia, especially heroin and amphetamine-type substances, is 
measurable in many tonnes a year.

"The numbers of people using and dependent on illicit drugs run into 
the millions across the region. Issues of such magnitude challenge 
the capacity of developed nations, let alone those that are 
attempting to hasten social and economic development, often from a 
low base," says the report, Situational Analysis of Illicit Drug 
Issues in the Asia-Pacific Region.

While the report says it is difficult to be definitive about the 
number of drug users, it concludes that China has up to 12 million, 
while four other Asian nations - Indonesia, Thailand, Laos and The 
Philippines - have more than two million between them.

The report does not spell out the implications for Australia, but 
they are obvious and grim. A flourishing demand for drugs on 
Australia's doorstep can lead only to greater production and greater 
trafficking of illicit drugs, making it harder to prevent those drugs 
landing here.

The growing threat posed by drugs in the region is one of the reasons 
why the Australian Federal Police in August won cabinet approval to 
double its international police force to about 1000 officers.

"We should not underestimate the threat that illicit drug use and 
supply poses to the wider Asia-Pacific region's stability and the 
potential impact of this situation on Australia," says Vumbaca.

The ANCD report slays several myths about drug use in Asia, most 
notably the assumption that drug users are mostly poor and desperate.

While many drug users are impoverished, the fastest-growing group are 
the affluent sons and daughters of those who are riding Asia's economic boom.

"Amphetamines are making substantial inroads into rapidly growing and 
economically powerful youth cultures in many countries," the report 
says. "This is especially the case among the children of political 
leadership in some countries ... many young illicit drug users are 
still living in a family environment."

Robert Ali of the University of Adelaide says middle-class 
communities in Asia are clearly "struggling with the uptake of drug 
use among their youth. This is particularly the case with 
amphetamine-type stimulants and other designer drugs."

This new generation of dance-party clubbers is using ecstasy and 
other Western fad drugs not traditionally seen in the region.

Australian model Michelle Leslie spent three months in a Bali prison 
last year after being found with ecstasy in her handbag outside a dance party.

According to Leslie's defence team, Siti Namira, the daughter of a 
prominent Indonesian, was the source of the two pills, part of a much 
larger stash allegedly belonging to an Indonesian judge's son.

More frightening is that China can produce an ecstasy tablet more 
cheaply than it can make a packet of chewing gum. Ecstasy tablets in 
China can be produced for as little as US6c (8c) a tablet, the report says.

The ANCD says China has emerged as the drug giant of Asia, a 
seething, uncontrolled hotbed of drug production and trafficking.

"In recent years the trafficking of drugs through China has increased 
substantially ... most of the heroin produced in Burma (an estimated 
63-73 tonnes a year) is now trafficked through China, which has 
become an important shipment route for the international market."

New drug routes have also opened from Afghanistan into western China, 
turning the old Silk Road in a drug superhighway.

But, as always, the drug mules who make this trade work are the most 

"Increasingly, drug traffickers are found to be women, children and 
poor, uneducated farmers who carry the drugs inside their bodies from 
the Golden Triangle and then on to various districts of China," the 
report says.

"Women couriers often swallow 400-500g of drugs encased in rubber, 
then fly from Kunming to other parts of China under the pretext of 
searching for employment."

 From Australia's perspective, one of the most alarming aspects of 
the study is the rise of Indonesia as a drug haven.

"Following the end of the Suharto era there has been considerable 
growth in the drug trade," the report says. "Indonesia was previously 
a transit rather than a destination country for illicit drugs, but 
this has recently changed so that Indonesia is now a point of 
transit, a destination and a source of drugs."

With a wild and often remote coastline of more than 8500km, 
Indonesia's porous borders are a haven for drug smugglers, especially 
those wanting their product to end up in Australia.

"Cocaine from the Andes travels via Brazil onwards to Hong Kong, then 
to Denpasar and often to Australia," the report says.

Another alarming finding is that the Pacific Islands are increasingly 
being used as transit points by drug smugglers.

"The geographic position of countries in the Pacific region 
facilitates the drug trade, both eastbound and westbound. South 
American cocaine is transported into Southeast Asia and Australia, 
while Southeast Asian heroin and methamphetamine are transported by 
couriers into Canada and into the US."

The report attributes much of the problem to the uneven nature of 
economic growth in the region, which has created stark divisions 
between rich and poor. It says the poor, especially those living in 
inner-city slums, have been locked out of the new economies of Asia.

"This is fertile ground ... trafficking and dealing are ways of 
accessing the informal economy when access to the formal economy is 
barred, as well as using drugs to ease the experience of impoverishment."

Ethnic minorities on border regions of China, Thailand, Burma, 
Vietnam and Papua are among the poorest in Asia and are particularly 
at risk. "The Asian region has been undergoing massive change over 
the past few decades: socially, economically and often politically.

"There has been a continuous influx of individuals - often men as 
labourers and women as sex workers - and families from rural areas to 
the cities. Such changes often lead to increased inequitable access 
to new wealth and substantial strains on urban services."

The report places some of the blame for Asia's drug problem on the 
ham-fisted efforts of regional governments to deal with it. Rather 
than embrace modern solutions to wean people off drugs, the report 
says Asian nations have relied on heavy-handed solutions.

"Much reliance is still placed on approaches for which there is 
little evidence of effectiveness, such as traditional medicines and 
boot camp-style rehabilitation centres or even imprisonment. 
Psychological and behavioural counselling is rare (and) recidivism 
rates are high: quoted as 80 per cent, but very likely much higher."

The growing prevalence of drug use and drug trafficking in Asia gives 
a lie to those who say the death penalty and harsh jail sentences are 
an active deterrent to the trade.

Almost all Asian countries, with the exception of Cambodia and East 
Timor, have the death penalty for possessing and trafficking drugs.

In China, the official response is especially brutal, with offenders 
often summarily executed with a gunshot to the back of the head. 
Indonesia and Vietnam use a firing squad, The Philippines uses lethal 
injection, while Singapore and Malaysia employ the hangman.

Australian Nguyen Tuong Van was executed last December for drug 
trafficking, while members of the Bali Nine have been sentenced to 
death or life imprisonment for their part in trafficking commercial 
quantities of heroin.

Similarly, harsh jail terms, such as the 20-year sentence given to 
Australian Schapelle Corby for importing cannabis, have failed to 
stem or even slow the drug trade.

The aim of the ANCD study is to help identify ways in which Australia 
can assist Asia to tackle its drug problems, especially by promoting 
the prevention and reduction of drug use and the treatment for those 
with drug problems.

As this report shows, the challenges are huge and the problem is only 
getting bigger.

Australia can hardly solve the problem of drugs in Asia, but it can 
help at the margins through well-targeted development assistance and 
through closer regional co-operation with police and customs to crack 
down on trafficking.

That is the best way, the only way, to prevent another Pong Su 
washing up on Australian shores.


A Region's Shame

Population: 13.4 million
Estimated drug users: 520,000
Main drugs: Yama (amphetamine)
Drugs injected: Heroin, methamphetamine

Population: 1.3 billion
Estimated drug users: 1.05 million registered, 6-12 million in total. 
Injecting drug users, 356,000-3.5 million
Main drugs: Heroin, benzodiazepines, methamphetamines, ecstasy, 
cannabis, opium, ketamine
Drugs injected: Heroin, methamphetamine, diazepam, pethidine, morphine

Population: 6.9 million
Estimated drug users: 36,384 (2001)
Main drugs: Heroin, ecstasy, methamphetamine, ketamine, cocaine, 
cannabis, cough mixtures, solvents
Drugs injected: Heroin

Population: 238 million
Estimated drug users: 1.3-6 million, including 124,000-196,000 IDUs
Main drugs: Cannabis, heroin, methamphetamine, ecstasy, depressants, 
solvents, codeine, cocaine
Drugs injected: Heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine

Population: 6.1 million
Estimated drug users: 50,000-70,000
Main drugs: Opium, amphetamine-type substances, cannabis, prescription drugs
Drugs injected: Heroin, opium, ATS.

Population: 425,286
Estimated drug users: 3700, 500-900 IDUs
Main drugs: Heroin, cannabis, ice, methamphetamine, ketamine, 
cocaine, ATS mainly ecstasy, MDMA, sedatives
Drugs injected: Heroin

Population: 23.5 million
Estimated drug users: 350,000-500,000, including 150,000-240,000 IDUs
Main drugs: Heroin, ATS, cannabis, ketamine
Drugs injected: Heroin, methamphetamine

Population: 42.7 million
Estimated drug users: 300,000-400,000
Main drugs: Heroin, opium, cannabis, methamphetamines, tranquillisers
Drugs injected: Heroin

Population: 84 million
Estimated drug users: 1.8 million (1998)
Main drugs: Methamphetamines, cannabis
Drugs injected: Very limited

Population: 65 million
Estimated drug users: 2-3 million, 50,000-100,000 IDUs
Main drugs: ATS, cannabis, kratom, inhalants, opium, heroin
Drugs injected: Heroin, ATS

Population: 83 million
Estimated drug users: 170,400 registered (2004), unofficially 200,000-500,000
Main drugs: Heroin, opium, methamphetamine, ecstasy, cannabis, 
blackwater opium, diazepam, glue
Drugs injected: Heroin, opium, diazepam

Source: Australian National Council On Drugs
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman