High school students are increasingly using methamphetamines and other stimulants to relax or help them study, according to the UN.
A spike in trafficking of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) across the borders with Thailand and Laos over the past two years has gone hand-in-hand with a rise in drug use in schools near the trafficking routes.
“Over two-thirds of people who use drugs are under the age of 25. The vast majority of these are ATS users,” Clay Nayton, a drug treatment officer with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Cambodia (UNODC), said last week.
“We have had reports from government counterparts that there has been a fairly significant increase over the last 24 months in secondary schools, particularly in provinces along the border of neighbouring countries.”
Southeast Asia has in the past decade seen a dramatic rise in the production and use of ATS, which has overtaken heroin as the product of choice for trafficking syndicates in the Golden Triangle – the storied region where Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and China’s Yunnan province meet.
While Myanmar remains the regional hub for ATS production, the UNODC in recent years has recorded a surge in manufacturing and export of ATS from labs in Cambodia by drug-trafficking groups predominantly from China and Taiwan.
“In Battambang, ATS use amongst high school students] seems to be a bit more of a phenomenon than in Banteay Meanchey. In Battambang, there’s also been a huge spike in ice,” Nayton said, referring to the crystalline form of meth.
“There has been an increase in trafficking of ATS and there’s definitely a correlation between the two,” he added.
Unlike in some neighbouring countries, the rise in the use of the drug does not seem to have preceded a corresponding increase in other forms of criminal activity.
“It’s interesting. It’s not similar to Thailand, also because of the motivating factors behind it,” Nayton said. “The students are not really the type of people that are engaged in other forms of crime. We’re not really sure of the motivations, but more likely [they are] recreational users.”
“Some of the [UNODC] outreach staff have been operating in schools . . . but because it’s relatively new, we haven’t managed to talk to the students yet.”
Ngy Seth, director of the Batambang provincial education department, said: “I heard [about the reports] and I went down to some schools to ask school directors and teachers about this, but [the schools] did not have [a problem].
“There are not students using drugs in school or class, but we do not know if they used in another place.”
The UNODC’s Nayton, however, said that UNODC outreach staff had been operating in schools in the provinces and had discovered evidence to back up the reports, including drug dealers operating in school yards.
Meas Sovann, director of Drug Addict Relief Association of Cambodia (DARA), said about half of the recovering addicts in the DARA centre in Phnom Penh are students.
“Most of them [drug users] are young people . . . drug users increased in the provinces near the border and they mostly use methamphetamine,” he said.
Kao Khon Dara, deputy chairman of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, declined to comment.