Crystal meth becomes popular New Year gift in North Korea

Radio Free Asia reports the drug is commonplace in the totalitarian state

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Kim Il Sung Square on New Year's Day

Kim Il Sung Square on New Year's Day (By Wikimedia Commons)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — While tea, cakes and condiments may be popular Lunar New Year gifts in Taiwan, many North Korean citizens are celebrating with something much heavier.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports crystal meth has become the go-to holiday giveaway in recent years, and authorities are clamoring to keep its spread under control.

The drug, known as “ice” (冰) in Taiwan and many Western countries, has become so popular that dealers do not have enough supply meet demands, an interviewee from North Hamyong province told RFA. “Since the mid-2000s, drugs have become commonplace and the people now think that the holidays are not a joyful time if there are no drugs for them to enjoy,” he said.

A 2014 publication from the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea gave a comprehensive account of how the drug first proliferated within the country. The government established meth production plants as early as the 1970s to drive North Korea’s failing economy, amping up efforts after its devastating famine in the late 1990s.

Its ubiquity within the totalitarian state has been well-documented in recent years.

RFA reported in 2016 that the drug was being given to construction workers to speed up building projects. Project managers were supplying it to encourage workers to meet demanding completion schedules and avoid punishment.

Now, the broadcasting corporation writes, the social stigma has completely disappeared and people are openly using and gifting crystal meth to “snort together during holidays” in order to “forget their harsh realities and enjoy themselves.”

Users are also becoming younger and younger, the report states, with some frequent buyers yet to graduate middle school. Authorities are even interrogating elementary school students in effort to curb the problem, writes RFA.

North Korea is not the only country in the midst of a mass methamphetamine crisis, however. The UN released a report last year that announced a staggering increase in the flow of crystal meth throughout Asia, posing a serious problem for many countries.

The Straits Times reported that Taiwanese “expert” cooks are actually responsible for the flood of methamphetamine across the continent, and wrote that highly-skilled Taiwanese chemists have long featured in the region’s meth trade.

The country’s largest-ever meth factory, containing 7,000 kg of materials to produce the drug, was uncovered by police in April.

Methamphetamine possession, production and distribution all receive severe legal penalties in Taiwan.