By Aung Shinn
Narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances pose one of the common enemies of mankind. To present its brief history, the opium poppy originated in the Mediterranean region in the Neolithic era around 5000 BC and purchasing and collecting opium began around 3400 BC. Although people started to use opium for medical purposes, in the beginning, it has been widely used for recreational purposes from around the 11th century onwards.
The records say the recreational use of opium was noted in the 15th century in China, a neighbour of Myanmar. Since the harmful effects of opium became obvious, China initiated the opium prohibition starting in 1729. China also attempted to stop opium smuggling leading to the confrontation with Britain that imported opium into China. The First Opium War (1839–1842) and Second Opium War (1850-1864) between China and Britain were significant instances. However, China was defeated in the wars losing some parts of its sovereign territory including ports. As a result, China had been destroyed with opium by Britain in the name of free trade. The saying ‘luo hou jiu yao ai da,’ which literally means, ‘if you are backward, you will take a beating’ was left among the youths of Chinese along with the lessons learnt from the opium wars. Hence, 26 June, the day when the viceroy born in Fujian province burnt down and destroyed the opium smuggled by Western merchants just before the First Opium War in China was recognized as the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.
Similarly, in Myanmar, the use and growing of opium became widespread as a result of British colonial rule. From the perspectives of historical background, legislation, religion, and socio-culture, Myanmar has never been a society that encourages the use of narcotic drugs. Opium, intoxicating brew, intoxicating preparation of fermented glutinous rice, and alcoholic drinks were strictly prohibited during the reign of Myanmar kings. Moreover, using alcoholic drinks and narcotic drugs is also forbidden in the Five Precepts of Buddhism practised by the majority of Myanmar people. From Myanmar’s sociocultural perspective, those who use illegal drugs are generally named ‘opium-eater (opium-addict)’ and become self-conscious in society. Nevertheless, the use of opium and illicit drugs notably became outspread in Myanmar during the colonial era as the British government officially permitted the growing of opium poppy and its production.
However, since the time of Independence, successive administrations of Myanmar have steadily taken measures of anti-narcotic drugs deemed as a national duty. Operation Nga Ye Pan (the hell flower), Operation Taung Yan Shin, Operation Taung Htake Pan and Operation Mae Lone conducted in the 1960s were particularly significant. Moreover, the phase 1 to 14 of Operation Moe Hein were conducted from 1976 to 1988. During Operation Moe Hein, 69 military officers sacrificed their lives and 451 were injured. The 1993 Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substances Law was amended in line with international standard and norms and it was enacted in 2018. So far, a total of 34 special operations against narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances have been conducted. In addition, long-term and short-term projects are being implemented by formulating strategies and tactics for the anti-narcotic drug measures.
The record-breaking seizures of illicit drugs witnessed in the time of the State Administration Council in the combined efforts of the Tatmadaw, Myanmar Police Force and Anti-Narcotic Task Force are tremendously gratifying. The seizures of narcotic drugs strongly prove that the State Administration Council is taking steady steps on the implementation of the Five-Point Roadmap and at the same time, emphasizing the anti-narcotic drug measures.
According to the statistics showing the seizures of narcotic drugs at the time of the State Administration Council, from January to December 2021, a total of K 970.289 billion (USD 524.48 million) worth of illicit drugs were confiscated. In 2022, there occurred 699 drug-related cases in January alone with seizures of over K113.9 billion (USD 61.57 million) worth of illicit drugs including opium, heroin, ICE (crystal meth) and stimulant tablets. In February, there were 556 drug-related cases in total with the seizures of narcotic drugs which has an estimated value of K130.5 billion (USD 70.54 million). Moreover, there were 655 cases in March and illicit drugs which hold the estimated value of over K117.3 billion (USD 63.4 million) were confiscated. In April, there were 525 cases and illicit drugs with an estimated value of over K175.1 billion (USD 94.65 million) were also seized.
Table Showing the Seizures of Narcotic Drugs in 2021 and 2022
In an interesting case, it was reported that a Japanese Yakuza leader and three Thai associates, who had planned to trade anti-aircraft weapons, small arms and explosives with a large amount of heroin and methamphetamine from Ethnic Armed Organizations-EAOs in Myanmar, were arrested in the US. This is the undeniable fact that humiliates the EAOs claiming they have never been involved in the illicit drug business. The opium poppy cultivation along with illicit drug issues and the existence of many armed groups as well as the low rate of development are deeply interrelated in Myanmar.
In May 2022, ICEs (crystal meth) worth around K16 billion (USD 2.79) transported to Kayin state from Shan state were confiscated in Hpa-an Township of Kayin State. Similarly, around five million stimulant tablets which have an estimated value of K5 billion (USD 2.7 million) being transported from Shan state to the Yangon region were seized in Mingaladon township. Moreover, a large quantity of heroin, which has an estimated value of K7,425 million (USD 4 million), was confiscated in Seik Mu village, Phakant township of Kachin State and 44 kilograms of heroin worth K660 million (USD 3.5 million) were also seized in Nawnghkio Township of Shan State. In the same month, ICE (crystal meth) with an estimated value of K6.2 billion (USD 3.35 million) to be shipped to Malaysia was also seized in the North Okkalapa Township of Yangon. Furthermore, a large quantity of Ketamine worth around K500 million (USD 0.27 million) was confiscated in Kunhing Township of Shan State while other illicit drugs, were seized in Phakant, Mudon, Bhamo and Myeik townships. It is notable that narcotic drugs which have an estimated worth of over K39.8 billion (USD 21.5 million) were seized in the month of May.
The table shows the figures for narcotic drugs seized in 2021 and 2022 during the time of the State Administrative Council. Overview of the aforementioned table shows that the value of illicit drugs seized in the first five months of 2022 has already surpassed half of the total value of the seizures in 2021. It obviously proves that anti-narcotic measures are speeded up in good momentum by the State.
The monthly seizures of illicit drugs clearly denote the relentless efforts of the State Administration Council Government to eradicate narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. On review of the seizures, a larger quantity of synthetic drugs has been seized rather than opium and heroin. It shows the shift towards the production, trafficking and use of synthetic drugs which can be easily made by chemical substances without opium.
In the past, the opium trade had been openly conducted under the title of free trade during British colonial rule. But it is now the time when the synthetic drug producers and dealers without borders are producing and selling the drugs, that will lead to the extinction of humans, using advanced technologies. Hence, the countries weak in law enforcement with many armed groups accordingly become major hot spots for producing drugs and psychotropic substances. Against the backdrop of the situation, it is worth wondering whether such countries are likely to become the victims of the neo-colonialism of mankind’s extinction.
Therefore, in combatting the danger of narcotic drugs, not only the strength of law enforcement units but also the conscientiousness and activities of every individual are critically important. Moreover, broad awareness campaigns are crucially required so that people can deeply perceive that not only can the narcotic drugs destroy the life of every individual but they also cause a serious risk of entire extinction of mankind.
The security forces concerned are well deserved to be appreciated for their relentless efforts to prevent the narcotic drugs from reaching the people and the youths in Myanmar society. Now, let me conclude by urging every individual of the people to prevent and combat narcotic drugs by joining hands together with conscientiousness.