Confiscated drugs at the NACD forensics lab.
he launch of a new regional drug analysis program on September 4 may give officials
the ability to trace illicit drugs-primarily amphetamine type substances (ATS)-back
to their manufacturers and clamp down on clandestine drug labs.
Meas Vyrith, laboratory director at the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD),
will head the new initiative, the Drug Analysis and Impurity Profiling Program. He
said Cambodia's drug problem is at a critical point.
"We are at the intersection," he said. "One way we go to hell, one
way we go to heaven." He added that since ATS drug use is relatively new to
Cambodia, rising levels of drug use could be reduced.
The Drug Analysis and Impurity Profiling Program was conceived in 2000 with the United
Nations Narcotics Control Board (UNNCB). The government sees the program as an additional
way to manage a problem that has grown worse over the last three years.
With a donation by the Japanese government of a drug analysis machine, known as a
gas chromatograph, and training for a staff of nine, the lab will begin operating
The machine can analyze the molecular compounds of a drug sample and determine its
exact chemical signature.
Once the compounds are identified, forensics and law enforcement officials could
compile profiles on the drugs, Vyrith said. These records may eventually allow them
to track drugs back to their labs and makers.
These results would also be made available to other Southeast Asian countries such
as Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and Burma. Those countries have already been given gas
chromatography machines by the Japanese government. The NACD hopes that such international
cooperation will lead to large-scale drug busts.
Vyrith said he thinks the drug problem in Cambodia has links to Thailand where the
substances are widespread. But he said Laos may now be the main source of drug imports
into the country.
Ngan Chamroeun, director of NACD's International Cooperation Department, underscores
that his office's major concern is the cheap and widely available synthetic drugs.
"Heroin is only available to the high-class and rich," he said. "But
[drugs such as Yaba] only cost $1 a pill and are abused mostly by youth." In
places like Poipet, he said those drugs are even cheaper at just 1000 riel a pill.
He warned that the threat is magnified because the drugs are cheap and easy to manufacture.
Vyrith agreed. "Any chemist can make yaba," he said. "We need to get
to the big guys."