Vietnamese police make a second large drug bust in as many months despite Myanmar’s declining opium production levels
Vietnamese police have arrested five men attempting to smuggle $2.5m worth of heroin from Laos into China.
The men were caught in Vietnam’s northern Cao Bang province with 100kg of heroin in their truck, which police shot at as the men attempted to escape, according to the Vietnamese newspaper Than Nien.
The bust comes just one month after Vietnam’s largest-ever drug haul, in which authorities confiscated 170kg of heroin from smugglers in the country’s northern provinces.
Vietnam is a key transit point for drugs produced in the so-called Golden Triangle, an area of approximately 950,000 square kilometres where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet.
Myanmar was the world’s largest supplier of opium until the end of the 20th century, when it was overtaken by Afghanistan.
A recent report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found that opium production in Myanmar decreased by 25% between 2015 and 2017, a decline it said reflected a growing preference among the region’s drug users for synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine.
Concentrated in Myanmar’s war-torn northern borderlands, the country’s opium trade plays a significant role in financing the ongoing conflict between ethnic military groups and the Myanmar military. But it also provides jobs for roughly 600,000 low-skilled, illiterate workers in an area with few other opportunities.
Coupled with rampant synthetic drug use, a drop in opium production is, therefore, nothing to celebrate, argues Jeremy Douglas, UNODC’s regional representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
In a recent opinion piece for the Globe and Mail, Douglas likened the impact of shifting drug preferences on Myanmar’s opium farmers to the dislocating effect of automation on blue-collar workers.
“Telling people in disrupted labour markets to “go do something else” may work if they are skilled engineers, but not if they are poor and illiterate farmers in the remote highlands of Myanmar,” Douglas wrote.
“As the shift toward synthetics such as fentanyl continues, opium and heroin-producing areas of Myanmar are likely to experience significant economic and political upheaval. Organized crime bosses and traffickers in the region certainly won’t suffer… But people at the bottom end of the economy with few options will stagnate or migrate.”