UN Drug Agency Reports Sharp Fall in Golden Triangle Opium Production

By Ron Corben
16 October 2006

The United Nations' drug agency says there has been another sharp fall in opium cultivation in the area of Southeast Asia known as the Golden Triangle, where Burma, Thailand and Laos meet. But, U.N. officials are now concerned about the increased use of methamphetamine-type stimulants across the region.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime - the UNODC - says its annual survey of opium production in the Golden Triangle region shows poppy cultivation there fell by 29 percent this year.

Burma, the main poppy growing country of the region, reported a more than 30 percent decline in areas under cultivation from the previous year.

Burma is the second largest opium grower globally after Afghanistan, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the world's supply of heroin.

Burma's northern Shan State produces 90 percent of the country's opium. The ethnic Wa community there declared a total ban on opium cultivation and trade last year.

The decrease in Burmese production means that a plan to eradicate opium in the Golden Triangle by 2014 remains on target. The region's share of world poppy cultivation dropped from 66 percent in 1998 to 12 percent last year.

But Leik Boonwaat, the UNODC Representative in Laos, said recently there is still a need for international support for development programs to assist opium growers to move toward alternative crops.

He said, "There is a need to provide the relief to former opium farmers, in order to enable them to adapt to new alternative livelihoods or new ways of life, and it's also important to enable the national poverty reduction programs to be able to incorporate all these areas."

The UNODC report says the two other countries in the Golden Triangle, Thailand and Laos, are almost opium free.

But the gains from the decrease in opium cultivation are being offset by a rise in methamphetamine and ecstasy abuse in Southeast Asia. A recent report by the UNODC found that methamphetamine is a concern across the region.

The UNODC's Leik says, in Laos, methamphetamine is a particular problem among young people.

"For methamphetamine in Laos, it's mostly targeting the youth - school children. We have children as young as 12 that are addicted, and this is causing great concern. We see it in the schools, we're seeing it in urban areas, we're seeing it in rural areas," he said.

Factories producing methamphetamine-type stimulants are found along the Burma-Thailand border, with millions of tablets finding their way onto the Thai market each year.