WHILE the COVID epidemic rages on, there is another troubling epidemic that has spread pretty much all over South East Asia. This is the methamphetamine outbreak that, as one international media (CNN) has bluntly put it, “ one of the world’s most intense drug crises”.
Here in the country where the campaign against illegal drugs has been both assailed and praised by various sectors of society and will forever be synonymous with the name Duterte, there seems to be a sort of disconnect on how we, as a people, fully understand and appreciate the severity of the drug problem.
Now how exactly should we put into its proper context the magnitude of the methamphetamine drug problem not only in the Philippines but elsewhere in the SouthEast Asia region. Josh Berlinger, a digital producer at CNN’s Hong Kong bureau, came out with a report headlined “Asia’s meth trade is worth an estimated 61 billion dollars as the region becomes a ‘playground’ for drug gangs”. That is a lot of money for a laboratory that manufactures chemical drugs. In his report he cited statements made by Jeremy Douglas, the regional representative for the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Southeast Asia and Pacific operations who “called on governments globally to ‘get their heads around the scale and significance’ of the problem. If they don’t, he warned, the situation will only worsen. The region is being used and abused by organized crime to do business. It is no stretch to say parts of it have become their playground.”
In another report by Mr. Berlinger he noted that “from the jungles of Myanmar to the streets of Hong Kong, police throughout Asia are fighting a war against methamphetamine. By many indications, they’re losing. Demand for both crystal meth and yaba, tablets that typically contain a mixture of meth and caffeine, is skyrocketing. Production is increasing at an unprecedented clip, and so is the body count. Leaders in places like Bangladesh and the Philippines are waging deadly drug wars that have cost thousands of lives. But this isn’t “Breaking Bad” – meth isn’t just used by the poor and the downtrodden.” He also made mention of the observation by Mr. Douglas of UNODC that “Meth no longer discriminates in Asia; it has become the dominant drug of choice across the region, irrespective of class, age or gender.”
From these pieces of information we now learn that the problem of illegal drugs, particularly methamphetamine, is a region wide concern and the probability of it becoming truly an epidemic is more or less already a given. Simply because it is big business.
How to stem the tide of this methamphetamine explosion in SouthEast Asia is a grave concern that is now being discussed and studied more closely by various countries involved as well as experts on the matter. But one thing is sure, here in the country, even as we continue to suffer under the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic we are also experiencing the deadly influence of an illegal drug, that of methamphetamine hydrochloride or ‘shabu’, in our society.
There is no simple way to solve the drug problem in the country, and while inroads and some successes have been achieved by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, there remains the issue of whether the country is truly winning the drug war considering that in the bigger picture and scheme of things, such an activity that generates billions of dollars (and trillions of pesos) in income will never be given up or surrendered voluntarily by those involved. Such is the dilemma facing the various nations in SouthEast Asia and thus the need for a more concerted effort through collaboration and cooperative participation to find a way to solve the methamphetamine epidemic.