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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
The drug that makes users 'crazy'
Struggle on the roof
The struggle to save a drug-addled father and his baby
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By Pip Clothier
MacIntyre Investigates producer
Investigative reporter Donal MacIntyre visits popular holiday destinations and discovers a dance drug feared to be more damaging than crack or heroin.
The man rolling around the rooftop high above the city streets appears at first to be holding a small parcel. But it soon becomes clear that the object in his arms is in fact a small child, no older than two. The child is his son and he's a drug-crazed addict intent on ending both their lives.

Struggle on the roof
The drug-addled father restrained by his relatives
Then through a hole in the roof clamber two desperate-looking rescuers. They rugby-tackle the drug addict, wrestling the child away, everybody rolling precariously on the sloping roof. A fall will kill them all.

At one point the rescued baby is dropped on the roof, sending him skidding back into the arms of the madman, before again being retrieved.

Welcome to the world of crazy medicine, a world in which a pernicious form of speed has taken grip. It's a world only too obviously evident if you go to Thailand where the narcotic - locally known as yaba - is every drug-taker's favourite tipple at present.

Where did yaba come from?
The Nazis created the stimulant to keep the troops awake for days during WWII
Thailand is just the latest country to suffer - Japan and the US have been here already. The authorities say the drug is spreading like a tidal wave across the world.

Yaba causes the brain to flood with a substance called dopamine, causing huge exhilaration but then terrible lows. Even low levels of abuse (one pill a day for a few months) can produce clinical depression and psychosis, a condition the no-nonsense Thais treat with raw electric shock treatment in their psychiatric hospitals.

Bangkok Hilton

The Thai police and judicial system are equally unequivocal in dealing with takers: dealers in only small amounts can get the death penalty while erratic drug behaviour in the streets can earn summary execution, as seen in several dramatic incidents in BBC One's MacIntyre Investigates.

A volunteer destroys poppies during opium eradication
Thailand has cracked down on opium production
Thailand is a country which thought it had said goodbye to serious drugs epidemics, having conquered the scourge of heroin abuse, banishing its production from once-prolific opium areas.

This new epidemic is fuelled by supplies from Thailand's maverick neighbour and long time foe, Burma. There, production of this drug is going vertical - this year 800 million tablets of yaba are scheduled to be produced from labs strung along the Thai-Burma border.

Donal MacIntyre
MacIntyre made his name reporting undercover
It's not an area that the Burmese want nosey Western journalists to visit, especially in the company of rebel soldiers continuing a civil war against the Burmese military junta.

However, that is where Donal MacIntyre and four other BBC journalists ended up last autumn during the production of Thursday's programme.

It's a trip which yielded proof of Burmese involvement in the drug trade. We saw drugs being seized from soldiers after they were caught in an ambush by rebel soldiers; and found a Burmese army garrison which served as a depot for storing the drug.

Over here

Recently, huge batches of these drugs have been intercepted on their way to Europe, transported by ship and by plane. Typically the drugs find their way onto the streets of Thailand and into areas popular with tourists.

Bangkok street scene
Traffic clogs the streets of Bangkok
In traffic-choked Bangkok, one of the only ways to move swiftly around town is to employ a bike-taxi. These are ridden by boys barely old enough to have passed their cycling proficiency test. But these bike boys are not really interested in offering lifts as they make more money selling drugs.

One night we came across several bike boys dancing drunk in the street. They offered drugs to Donal who, as an experienced undercover drugs buyer, asked for an amount he knew they could not possibly have to hand - and was somewhat shocked when they offered to supply.

An Irishman struggling to speak Thai to drunken teenage dealers - and all played out in front of one of the biggest transvestite clubs in Thailand.

MacIntyre Investigates will be screened in the UK on BBC One on Thursday, 2 May at 2100BST.

See also:

24 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Thailand blames Burma for drugs rise
12 May 00 | UK
Drugs: Taking in trends
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