'Ice' Use Spreads, Worsening North Korea's Drug Addiction Problem

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Blocks of methamphetamine confiscated by Chinese police during their latest crackdown on drugs are displayed at the Changsha Public Security Bureau in Changsha city, central China's Hunan province, March 18, 2013.

Facing tighter controls by China, North Korean drug producers are finding a lucrative market at home, especially for the powerful stimulant methamphetamine or “ice,” worsening the drug addiction problem in the reclusive nation, sources say.

And as demand for methamphetamine grows, its use has spread through the country’s schools, the sources told RFA’s Korean Service.

“Use of the drug by groups of secondary school and college students has now become especially conspicuous,” a source in North Korea’s northern Yanggang province said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Separately, a second source in Yanggang agreed that group use of the highly addictive drug, once trafficked mainly across the border into neighboring China, is on the rise in North Korea.

Because methamphetamines—known locally as bingdu—can cost as much as 70 Chinese yuan (about U.S. $11) per gram, he said, “17 to 20 people will often share a gram among them, consuming the drug as a group rather than individually.”

Group use of the drug by men and women together has sometimes led to cases of “disorderly conduct,” the source said.

On Aug. 15, four students of the Hyesan City Teachers College in Yanggang were caught engaging in sexual activity after taking methamphetamines, he said, adding that revelations of group use of the drug among secondary school students in other cities had also caused a “sensation.”

Increase in production

Because of recent crackdowns on the trafficking of drugs from North Korea into China, “the number of drug addicts in North Korea is increasing because the drugs formerly smuggled out are being consumed domestically,” a source in North Hamgyong province said, also speaking anonymously.

And while Chinese authorities have tightened controls, North Korean authorities appear to have largely abandoned their own efforts at enforcement, allowing domestic consumption to spread, sources said.

“The growing number of addicts means an increase in production and trafficking,” the source in North Hamgyong told RFA.

“And as drug manufacturing technology spreads throughout the country, drugs formerly produced in only a few cities are now being manufactured in places like Danchon and Pukchong,” on North Korea’s northeastern coast and in South Hamgyong province, respectively.

Methamphetamine use is also growing within law enforcement units in North Korea, according to Professor Kim Seok Hyang of South Korea’s Ewha Women’s University.

“When Kim Jong Un became the leader of North Korea it was banned by North Korean authorities,” said Kim in an Aug. 29 interview with the Asia Pacific program of ABC News.

“But the problem is that those policemen and other high ranking officials, they are the ones who are fond of methamphetamines.”

North Korean methamphetamine addicts now “put all the money they have” into the drug, Kim said.

Reported by Sung Hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Doeun Han. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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