Drug Addicts In Thailand: Ya Ba, Ice, And Avoiding The Crackdowns

Rob loved Thailand.

But even so, he had to leave Bangkok and go back home to old Europe – back to the place where he was born.

It wasn’t that he didn’t like it here or had a money problem. Rob enjoyed his days wandering Sukhumvit and his family business back at home supplied him with all the income he needed.

His problem was drugs.

Despite the fact that many movies and novels show Bangkok as a ‘drug hub’, the reality for the vast majority of tourists in Thailand is that drugs are not that easy to find. At least, not as easy as in some European countries or America. And then, of course, there’s the possibility of paying a heavy price if you’re caught by the police with something in your hands.

But drugs are hardly rare in a city like Bangkok, as Rob explains.

“It depends on the people you hang out with; if your gang knows someone in the business, you have access to everything,” he says. From cocaine to ketamine – one of the most popular nightclub highs nowadays.

Finding random dealers in a club, common practice in the West, is not the usual thing in Bangkok. Here, many users prefer to take their dose at home. Almost all EDM festivals check everyone at the door, as do most of the clubs.

Rob’s particular drug problem was with a dope resoundingly popular in Southeast Asia: Crystal methamphetamine, known here as ‘Ice’.

You could even say that Ice is a local product.

Synthesized at the Golden Triangle – mostly in Myanmar – is methamphetamine at 100% purity. It’s the most common drug in this part of the world, and a very powerful one.

And as Rob says, a very addictive one.

“One trip of Ice is different from everything I’ve tried before. It makes you feel unbeatable; but the side-effects are horrible.”

Rob found himself smoking Ice several days a week.

Ice and Ya Ba – a red Ice pill comprised of 20% methamphetamine and mixed with caffeine – are the drugs causing the biggest worry to the Narcotic Suppression Bureau of Thailand. They know that this is Thailand’s most common drug and they make huge efforts to stop its distribution.

It’s not uncommon to see news of operations to dismantle the distribution systems of Ice and Ya Ba. For instance, the Bureau seized 200 million baht of drugs in Bangkok at the start of February, with half a million pills and almost 40 kilos of Ice in the haul.

Another operation in the north of Thailand in January took the number of Ya Ba pills intercepted this year to more than 900,000.

While other drugs like cocaine and ketamine can be popular in Thailand – and especially in Bangkok – the locally produced meth is still the main problem.

So, is this a new issue or simply a rehash of an old problem in Thailand?

The Kingdom has always had more than a stigma association to drugs. When it was first developed more than three decades ago, Ya Ba was nothing more than a popular pill that helped truck drivers stay awake – they could even find it in gas stations. Once it was banned, Ya Ba production moved to the rural areas and crystal meth boomed throughout poor neighborhoods in every Thai city.

Every government in the last few decades has made big efforts to fight drug abuse.

The results are noticeable – Thailand is no longer a place where foreigners can find drugs easily – but experts in the field claim that as the country has developed, drug users have still grown in number. More money in the pockets means more chances to buy and use drugs.

That explains why other drugs like amphetamines, MDMA, cocaine and ketamine are now more popular in big cities like Bangkok. The youngsters have more money to spend and more opportunities to buy.

One year ago, the Government claimed 2% of the population were “drug addicts”: around 1.3 million people. A big increase if we compare that with the numbers from 2007, when around 407,000 people were estimated to be addicted.

Methamphetamine is, for Thai authorities, the enemy to beat. As it was heroin several decades ago. Their idea is to stop the consumption, which will cut off the distribution.

But so many addicts in Bangkok have already found other ways to find and use Ice, Ya Ba and others.

And as Rob says, “avoiding the police checks was not very difficult”. His trick was to do it at home with friends before going out:

“So they can’t easily find you with something in your pockets”.

As the intelligence of the crackdown operation grows, so too does the duplicity of Thailand’s drug users.


Do you think Thailand’s drug problem is growing?

Featured image is by @yoware and used under a Creative Commons licence



About Author

Luis is a Spanish journalist crazy about Asia. And about nightlife in Asia. You can easily spot him writing in any Bangkok bar, probably updating his blog (in Spanish) Bangkok: Bizarro.

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