Drug policy in transition
Myanmar is the second largest opium producer in the world after Afghanistan. The main factors behind the spread of opium poppy cultivation – opium and heroin are extracted from opium poppies – are poverty and lack of food security. At the same time, the number of drug users in Myanmar is growing. Amphetamine use in particular has increased sharply in recent years. Myanmar is meeting these challenges with the National Drug Control Strategy (2018). This recognises addiction as a public health problem and devotes a separate chapter to the Alternative Development approach.
As early as the 1970s, the border triangle between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos was known for opium poppy cultivation. More than 70% of the opium sold worldwide and the heroin produced from it came from the "Golden Triangle". While Thailand and Laos have largely been able to curb cultivation, Myanmar is now the second largest opium producer, accounting for 10% of global production (UNODC, 2019).
Every ninth family in Shan State is economically dependent on opium poppy cultivation. The main reasons for the widespread illicit cultivation are poverty, the resulting food insecurity and high private debt. A five-person household lives below the absolute poverty line with an average daily income of only 5.50€ (UNODC, 2017). At the same time, the number of drug users in Myanmar is growing. Amphetamine use has increased sharply in recent years.
The value of the illegal opium market in Myanmar is estimated at 0.6 to 1.3 billion €; this corresponds to 0.9 to 1.9% of GDP. Only up to 9% of revenues are generated by opium poppy cultivation, while processing into heroin and trafficking in it generate the bulk of revenues. Up to 26% of the heroin produced is now consumed in the country itself (UNODC, 2020).
Myanmar is also a country of origin for methamphetamine. Shan State has become a centre for the production and trafficking of methamphetamine, thanks to easy access to precursor substances, most of which come from neighbouring countries (ICG, 2019).
The number of methamphetamine tablet seizures and related arrests has increased significantly. The substance is now more readily available, while prices have remained low or even fallen (ICG 2019). Experts estimate that there are between 300,000 and 400,000 drug users in Myanmar, of whom an estimated one quarter are injectors. About 240,000 people are affected by HIV/AIDS, almost a quarter of them injecting drugs.
Myanmar's efforts to develop effective measures against the negative consequences of drug cultivation, production and consumption culminated in a National Drug Control Strategy in February 2018. The strategy recommends that the drug problem be addressed through health, development and human rights-oriented approaches and promotes international cooperation. A national action plan is to help implement the strategy in the country.
The Global Partnership on Drug Policies and Development (GPDPD) supports the work of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Myanmar (UNODC) and the non-governmental organisation Asian Harm Reduction Network. The aim of this multilateral and civil society cooperation is to promote efforts to deal with drug cultivation problems in a development-oriented manner and to implement harm reduction.