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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Meth use on rise in Kingdom

A police officer questions a detained man after a drug raid on a house in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district
A police officer questions a detained man after a drug raid on a house in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district turned up numerous bags of methamphetamine last week. NATIONAL POLICE

Meth use on rise in Kingdom

Cambodia's appetite for synthetic drugs is increasing, warns a new report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, with the use and production of amphetamine-type substances both on the upswing in the Kingdom.

The report, titled The Challenge of Synthetic Drugs in East and Southeast Asia and Oceania, was released today and examines developments in the synthetic drug market and the challenges governments in the region face in combating the trade.

“East and Southeast Asia and Oceania has the world’s largest ATS [amphetamine-type substances] market, which is dominated by methamphetamine in crystalline and tablet forms,” a UNODC statement said.

In 2013, according to the report, crystal methamphetamine was the “primary drug of concern” in Cambodia, though the country has seen an uptick in the use of both crystal meth, known popularly as “ice”, and the tablet form referred to locally as yama.

The report says that people receiving treatment for methamphetamine addiction accounted for 94 per cent of people undergoing rehabilitation in Cambodia.

Maxing out at about $5 a pill, the yama available in Cambodia is some of the cheapest in the region. The drug, a mixture of methamphetamine, caffeine and other cutting agents, is widely available and wildly popular. It has historically been favoured by users who work blue-collar jobs for long hours, such as fishermen, truck drivers and construction workers.

“In recent years, there have been reports of methamphetamine tablets being possibly manufactured in Cambodia and Vietnam,” the report says.

Crystal methamphetamine, on the other hand, is usually much purer, stronger and more expensive than the tablets. In Cambodia, the drug is viewed as a cleaner and less-risky yama alternative, and due to its relative strength, has seen its popularity rise by both the lower and upper classes.

David Harding, technical adviser at the NGO Friends International in Cambodia, works with younger, at-risk people to educate them on the dangers of drug abuse. He said his organisation has witnessed a major rise in crystal methamphetamine use.

“What we’ve seen is a very dramatic upswing in crystal methamphetamine [use],” he said. “It’s seen as much more aspirational.” Harding added that increased domestic production of the drug, as well as a lack of education about its ills, has likely led to it being abused by more Cambodians, particularly youths. “There have been meth labs uncovered in Cambodia, which means supply is likely to be higher than say, heroin, which is imported,” he said. “The more meth you have around, the more, obviously, it is an option to use.”

The report, which stressed the need for increased cooperation between states, also noted that in addition to more classic trafficking routes in the region, “large amounts” of crystal methamphetamine were perceived as having been smuggled into Cambodia from Africa, as well.

In addition to ATS, the UNODC said that new psychoactive substances also signal a major concern for the regions studied. Cambodia, in particular, has seen the emergence of ketamine, a PCP-like substance that causes hallucinations and out-of-body experiences, in its borders.

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