The Golden Triangle is a region in Northern Thailand, Laos and Myanmar that is infamously known as a production region of drugs. Historically, the area was famous for its opium production and drug trade including drug trafficking, violence and people smuggling. Opium has been used as a recreational drug in South East Asia since the 1800’s when the Opium Wars occurred.
The Opium Wars took place between the Chinese and British traders after the traders began to smuggle opium into India and China with the goal of generating cash and as payment for tea purchases. The result was high addictions and unsettled situations in China who began to enforce serious drug penalties and sparked the Opium Wars. Production of opium continued to be a profitable business and demand for the product in Asia did not wane after the Opium Wars. Production increased dramatically during the 1950’s in the region of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar and huge amounts of money flooded into the region, hence the term, the Golden Triangle.
The governments of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar are all fighting the war against drug producers and traffickers of opium, but more increasingly methamphetamine. In the 1990’s the governments successfully cracked down on producers and traffickers of opium which resulted in a significant reduction in the cultivation in the area. But the reductions that were made in this region for opium resulted in the explosion of opium growing in Afghanistan. Today, Myanmar is the second largest producer of opium in the world after Afghanistan.
The rapid decline in production of opium left farmers and communities in Myanmar and Laos with a gap in crop production. This gap has been partially filled by legal cash crops and initiatives, however there are questions about the sustainability of these communities. Some have turned to production of new drugs due to the need for them to be able to sustain themselves, support families and be able to afford food, housing and water. That gap appears to have been filled by methamphetamine.
There has been a global increase in the use and manufacture of methamphetamines in the last 10 years, and particularly so in Southeast Asia. The drug is easily produced in clandestine setups from easy to procure chemicals. For people in Laos, Myanmar and parts of Thailand, the drug has a bigger financial return that traditional crops, requires less labor and is easier to manufacture. According to the UNODC, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand are vulnerable to manufacture of methamphetamine due to the availability of precursor chemicals, demand and because organized criminal groups target the region.
Methamphetamine is a popular drug in Asia because of the stimulative affects the drug produces. The drug can be snorted, smoked, swallowed or injected, making it easy and available for any drug user to consume. The drug increases energy and stamina which are particularly relevant and accepted, side effects especially to farmers and workers in the region. But affluent urbanites also enjoy the effects of the drug on weekends and to help them work harder and faster. Methamphetamine, however, is highly addictive, dangerous and can cause significant social, family and mental problems. Withdrawals are painful and long lasting. Fatigue, apathy, depression and other health conditions can last for a long time. And the financial cost of attending rehabilitation programs is often out of the question for people in regional or rural areas.
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