- Despite a bloody war on drugs and frequent seizures by authorities, the supply of meth or as it is known here, Ya Ba, pills has grown to the point prices are falling
- A better approach, according to a UN expert, is dealing with market demand by getting treatment, prevention and harm minimization efforts in place
A decade ago, ya ba pills cost 250 baht to 350 baht (US$8-US$11) each, but Pichai’s experience as a drug mule was different.
“I was paid 200 baht to 300 baht to deliver 20-30 methamphetamine pills. I later bought [the entire amount] to sell, at around 1,500 baht, or lower if my credit is good … before selling them at 250 baht for a pair of pills to taxi drivers, construction workers and migrant workers,” he said.
But where are these drugs coming from?
According to the Thai government, there are more than 10 ya ba production bases in the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos converge on the banks of the Mekong River. The area, long controlled by armed militants, has an estimated production capacity of 2 million Ya Ba tablets a day.
The ‘oversupply’ causing the price drops of Ya Ba is linked to the massive surge coming out of Myanmar’s Shan State into Thailand across the border around Chiang Rai, but also increasingly through Laos to bypass Thai efforts along the Myanmar border,” said Jeremy Douglas, regional representative of the United Nations office on drugs and crime for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
Use of ya ba, which has long been popular among labourers and truck drivers as a stimulant, boomed in the early 2000s. The administration of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra responded with a controversial war on drugs in 2003, which saw widespread international condemnation after more than 2,800 extrajudicial killings in the campaign’s first three months.
The high production capacity has also rendered ineffective the government’s subsequent attempts to control Ya Ba. From November 2018 to January 2019, Thai authorities seized 247 million pills; it confiscated 248 million in 2017 alone, up from 124 million in 2016.
It, unfortunately, shows the heavy Thai efforts are having little impact on supply to the streets, and that the interception rates are likely low even though seizures are rising.
There is a chance the situation might turn around somewhat – and I say might – if regional leaders are willing to consider the gravity of the problem and completely rebalance their approach. Basically, they need to get away from quick fixes and the usual focus on mass street-level arrests, seriously focus on organised crime, which is running amok in the region, and start to deal with market demand by getting treatment, prevention and harm minimisation efforts in place.
Those mass street-level arrests have caused another aftershock of the drug epidemic – prison overcrowding. As of March 2018, 74% of inmates in Thailand were held on drug-related charges.