Pubdate: Sun, 17 Oct 1999
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: Guardian Media Group plc. 1999
Author: Tony Thompson, Crime Correspondent


It is known as 'crazy medicine'. Now 'yaba' a new drug more popular than
heroin in parts of the Far East, is heading for Britain, amid warnings that
it could supersede Ecstasy as the drug of choice for the country's clubbers.

The drug, which creates an intense hallucinogenic effect and can enable
users to stay awake for days on end, was originally created by German
chemists instructed by Adolf Hitler to find a stimulant that would help his
soldiers to fight around the clock.

Drug experts are warning that Britain is being targeted by yaba producers
operating out of the so-called Golden Triangle - the drug producing areas
which straddle the borders of Thailand, Burma and Laos.

Last month two packages of a drug thought to be yaba were intercepted at
Heathrow Airport. There have been other recent seizures in France and
Ireland, and there is evidence that illegal laboratories in the United
Kingdom are attempting to make it. 'We are watching this with extreme
concern,' one detective told The Observer.

Regular use of the drug has been linked to lung and kidney disorders,
hallucinations and paranoia.

A frequent hallucination is 'speed bugs' or 'crank bugs'. The user believes
bugs live under his or her skin and becomes desperate to get them out.

Those coming off the drug are also susceptible to severe depression and
suicidal urges. Demand for the drug in Britain is being fuelled by
holidaymakers returning from the Far East, who talked about the intense
high it induces.

A derivative of synthetic amphetamines such as speed, yaba can be
manufactured far more quickly and easily than traditional forms of
amphetamine. The recipe has spread from the Far East by word of mouth and
on the Internet.

The main ingredients, which include salt, household cleaning products,
distilled cold medicines, and lithium from camera batteries, can be bought

The rewards for criminals can be huge. Around pounds 300 of raw materials
can make yaba worth more than pounds 2,000 at British street prices. Since
the equipment needed is portable, labs can be moved on a regular basis,
making it more difficult for police to track them down.

'You used to envisage an amphetamine lab with beakers and Bunsen burners,
but that's not the case any more,' said one drugs squad detective. 'You can
make it right on the hob with just a couple of casserole dishes. As well as
being quicker and cheaper, the drug produced is also purer and stronger
than other forms of amphetamine.'

The so-called Nazi method of making yaba was first noticed in Thailand more
than 30 years ago. At the time it was legal and would be sold at petrol
stations alongside soft drinks and cigarettes. Long-distance lorry drivers
would pop the pills to help them work through the night. Possession and
supply of yaba was criminalised in 1970, but the market simply went

By the mid-Nineties - with students and other young people turning to the
drug - seizures of yaba overtook those of heroin.

According to the Public Health Ministry, the number of students entering
rehab to deal with yaba addiction has risen by 970 per cent in the past two
years. Around five times more yaba than heroin is produced in the Golden
Triangle, mainly in Burma.

More than 400 million pills are expected to be smuggled across the border
into Thailand in the next year alone. As much as two-thirds of all crime
committed in Bangkok is now thought to be yaba related.
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