North Korea Drug Problem Spans Border with China

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Policemen check out 147 kilograms of methamphetamine sized in Xishuangbanna in southwest China's Yunnan Province, Oct. 24, 2015.
Policemen check out 147 kilograms of methamphetamine sized in Xishuangbanna in southwest China's Yunnan Province, Oct. 24, 2015.

Illegal drug use is on the rise in North Korea as the country’s youth are getting turned on to methamphetamine and more of the drug  known as “ice” is being made in China, sources tell RFA’s Korean Service.

The demand for the drug appears to be growing, even as North Korean authorities step up efforts to stamp out the drug trade in advance of the Lunar New Year holiday, the sources say.

While drug abuse used to be confined to the wealthier segments of North Korean society with members of the Workers’ Party of North Korea, the judiciary and other leading organizations using methamphetamine, it is moving to other parts of society as students and other ordinary people are seeking it out.

Drugs as gifts

North Koreans are even sharing ice as a birthday or holiday gift, even as authorities begin a crackdown on drug use as a way to establish “social discipline” before the lunar New Year – one of the biggest and most important holidays in the country and most of Asia.

While the North Korean government is conducting a war on drugs and the raw materials to make them are scarce in the secretive country, methamphetamine makers are finding it easier and more profitable to slip into and out of China with the drug or its ingredients, the sources said.

“It will be very difficult for the authorities to completely eradicate the use of drugs in North Korea when the North Korean narcotics manufacturers have advanced to neighboring China,” one source told RFA.

Young North Koreans aren’t just seeking out the drugs; they are also taking the lead in their manufacture, the sources said.

“Most of the North Korean narcotics manufacturers are in their 20s or 30s,” a source told RFA. “They don’t have any problems with their entry into China, nor do they have any limitations in their activities inside the country thanks to the official permit for overseas business trips as well as the 3-month private travel certificate, both of which are issued by the North Korean authorities.”

Lured by easy profits and rising demand, North Korean drug dealers also find a ready market in China. The sources say that even when authorities intensify their attempts to stop smuggling at the border, North Korean narcotics manufacturers still make trips to China to produce and sell the drugs.

“The narcotics manufactured in North Korea are sold for 100 Chinese Yuan (U.S. $6.30) per 0.8 grams. However, the cost soars up to 1,300 Yuan in China (U.S. $212),” another source told RFA. “That’s why the North Koreans choose to produce narcotics at a factory in China, rather than smuggling those made in North Korea into China.”

Links to organized crime

Working in groups of between three and six people they make and smuggle 10 to 30 batches of so-called “North Korean Narcotics” each time.

“North Korean narcotics manufacturers are known to have close ties with organized gangs in China as their protectors,” the source explained. “Most of the North Korean narcotics manufacturers stay less than 6 months in China. They are scattered in such regions as Jilin, Liaoning, and Heilongjiang provinces.”

According to the CIA World Factbook, China is major transshipment point for heroin produced in the Golden Triangle region of Southeast Asia, and there is growing domestic consumption of synthetic drugs and heroin from Southeast and Southwest Asia. China is also identified as a source country for methamphetamine and heroin chemical precursors, despite new regulations on its large chemical industry.

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA's North Korean Service. Translated by Hee Jung Yang. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.





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