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article imageTo die by fire or ice: North Korea’s crystal meth epidemic

By Hugh A. Ostrow     Aug 22, 2013 in World
North Korea’s rulers originally sought to use methamphetamine manufacturing and smuggling to fund desperately needed hard currency, but this may have only let unexpected genies out of the bottle.
North Korea is probably the most highly ostracized country in the world. It engages in a number of activities which enrage its neighbors and heighten tensions throughout the world such as manufacturing its own nuclear bombs, providing assistance to other rogue nations in the domains of nuclear and missile technology and extensive drug smuggling. These North Korean activities encouraged international sanctions and other adverse responses by much of the world. In reaction, the North Korean regime developed the cult or ideology of “Juché” (Chuché). According to Global this home-grown ideology espouses the need for self-reliance, the need to rely on domestic resources, heightened vigilance against possible external or foreign challenges, and strengthening domestic political solidarity (repression); the North Korean people should expect sacrifice, austerity, unity, and promoting all things Korean as the crucial and important tenets of Juché.
In The Wilson Quarterly an article “Jumped up in Pyongyang” explains that the desperate need for hard currency influenced the North Korean regime to begin mass producing methamphetamines (crystal meth) and other counterfeit forms of drugs such as Viagra. At first crystal meth use among North Koreans was extremely rare since it was prohibitively expensive and the drug of choice was usually opium. Originally all the methamphetamines in North Korea were manufactured in state-owned factories but in the early 2000s the government abruptly closed many of the drug factories and made many scientists, technicians, and factory workers jobless. Some of the few entrepreneurs in the country recognized the opportunities presented and began to fund the private production of the crystal meth. Communist party officials were the first to experiment with the new supplies of inexpensive crystal meth but the use of the extremely potent and addictive methamphetamines quickly spread to other segments of North Korean society with the border areas next to China experiencing the greatest increase in drug abuse The Wilson Quarterly.
Some other factors exacerbated the North Korean crystal meth epidemic. Periodic famines have drastically increased the need for basic food stuffs to feed the population but North Korea has little in the way of legitimate commodities to earn hard currency to buy food overseas. In the late 1990s the regime began to permit black market trade with China by letting illicit products from North Korea be exchanged for currency, consumer products, and food from China Fisher of the Washington Post. The famines, sanctions, and misplaced adherence to state ideology all combined to cause the North Korean health system to implode due to an almost total lack of imported medicines and supplies. As real medicine became scarcer and prohibitively expensive, many ordinary North Koreans turned to the much more available and cheaper methamphetamines. In particular the populations in the border and rural areas of the country already relied upon folk and traditional cures and eagerly turned to the methamphetamines unaware of the great potential for addiction Fisher of the Washington Post. Crystal meth purportedly could cure a variety of medical problems including back pain and stroke complications besides alleviating stress and fatigue The Wilson Quarterly.
Allowing the smuggling of methamphetamines in exchange for other goods across the border to China may have possibly let unexpected genies out of the bottle. Such contraband goods included devices capable of receiving foreign short wave or television broadcasts, pirated South Korean soap operas, and popular programs which displayed the superior standard of living in South Korea. The endemic bribery and corruption in North Korea has also begun to cause many of its citizens to be less apprehensive or wary of the capability of the state to spy on them and the penalty for dealing in methamphetamines is now only two years in prison compared to a life sentence for political dissidence The Wilson Quarterly.
China is North Korea’s paramount ally and trading partner. Despite many provovations by North Korea, China hesitates to protest the illegal smuggling to avoid repercussions from other nations calling for action against the Pyongyang regime in world forums or otherwise exacerbating the North Korean regime’s problems. According to The Economist paradoxically even if China attempts to now participate in sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear testing programs and other illicit state sponsored activities, the result will likely only increase the level of illegal smuggling across the borders.
More about Illegal drugs, North korea, Drug smuggling, Korea sanctions
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