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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK
Methamphetamine scourge
Thai policeman stands next to methamphetamine haul (file photo)
Thailand launched a big campaign against meth trafficking last year
It is known as "ice", "the devil's drug", "poor man's cocaine", "chalk", "crank", "fire", "glass", "crystal", "ya ba" or simply "meth".

But it is not the variety of names given to methamphetamine that is causing huge problems for drug enforcers, but its ease of production, widespread appeal and devastating effects.

Once seen as a harmless pick-me-up, methamphetamine is derived from the stimulant ephedrine.

Sixty years ago, soldiers were given a good sniff to give them a boost, and Adolf Hitler had daily injections of the drug. Centuries earlier, it was used in traditional Chinese medicine, and workers through the ages had used it for its stimulating effects.

It produces temporary hyperactivity, euphoria, a sense of increased energy as well as tremors.

Sold as powder, tablets or crystals
Can be snorted, smoked, injected or swallowed
Can alter personality; increase blood pressure and damage brain

Users find their heart rate, temperature, breathing and blood pressure increase. Violent behaviour is common, with the drug also causing anxiety, depression, drowsiness and paranoia.

Continued use can cause personality changes, chronic paranoia, increased blood pressure and brain damage.

The centre of the drug's production in Asia is the Golden Triangle - the border area between Burma, Laos and Thailand. Drugs lords in the far reaches of Burma began making methamphetamine, known locally as "ya ba", to supplement their heroin trade. They annually produce several hundreds of millions of tablets for Thailand, China and India.

According to the US Department of State, Thailand is home to the worst abuse of ATS (amphetamine-type stimulants) - including methamphetamine and MDMA - in the world.

A government crackdown on methamphetamine last year has had some impact, but it remains a major problem for the Thai authorities.

Japan is also a major methamphetamine market in Asia. The drugs are believed to originate from China, Taiwan, the Philippines and North Korea. Methamphetamine use has also risen dramatically in Australia in recent years.

Easy to make

In America, meth only transformed into a serious drugs industry for illegal traffickers relatively recently - it was formerly a recreational diversion for motorcycle gangs.

Laboratories are primarily centred in Mexico and California, and abuse is prevalent across the US.

An attraction for producers is the ease with which the drug can be made.

All they need are ingredients which are available legally such as pseudoephedrine, which is supplied for cold medicine manufacturers; lithium from batteries; fertiliser and a few other chemicals.

Actually "cooking" the drug is very dangerous.

And dangers from the drug are not limited to those who may die making or taking it. Research has found children who live near production facilities - often in farm outhouses - are exposed to dangerous fumes and toxic chemicals which leach into the soil creating unknown problems for the future.

Fiji police in record drugs haul
09 Jun 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Thai police chief defends drug war
19 Dec 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Meth wreaks havoc across US
25 Jun 02 |  Americas

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