There were no significant quantities of opiates, synthetic or other drugs cultivated or produced in Thailand in 2014. Various transnational criminal organizations supply Thailand’s domestic market for illicit drugs and use the country as a transshipment point for trafficking to international markets. Domestic drug use continues to remain a serious problem, particularly of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS). Use of ATS continues to rise, and its growing availability is primarily due to increasing levels of importation of methamphetamine from neighboring Burma.
Heroin, cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy), crystal methamphetamine, and methamphetamine tablets (“yaa-baa”) were all seized in significant quantities by Thai authorities in 2014. Cultivation of opium poppy and cannabis, as well as domestic ATS production, remained minimal. According to the most recent statistics available to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Thai authorities eradicated 264 hectares (ha) of poppy in 2013, an increase of 28 percent from 2012 (205 ha eradicated). The small quantities of opium produced in Thailand are primarily intended for local consumption by hill tribe growers.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
Responding to the growing and widespread problem of methamphetamine abuse, the Thai government implemented a comprehensive anti-drug campaign in 2011 that remains ongoing. The national policy aims to reduce drug-related social problems, drug addiction, and recidivism, and to increase awareness of the dangers of drug use.
Thailand’s counternarcotics assets are insufficient to patrol the long and remote borders with Laos, Burma, and Cambodia, where most drugs enter the country. Thailand continues to increase its efforts to coordinate with neighboring law enforcement entities, assisted by U.S. support for equipment and training.
The United States and Thailand have extradition and mutual legal assistance treaties in force. Thailand is among the most effective and cooperative partners of the United States in Southeast Asia, with U.S. assistance facilitating and enhancing that cooperation.
2. Supply Reduction
Significant drug seizures by Thai law enforcement agencies continued throughout 2013 and into 2014. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has worked closely with Thai law enforcement on joint investigations, resulting in the successful disruption of several international drug trafficking organizations.
The use and trafficking of heroin continues remains a challenge for Thai law enforcement agencies. According to Thailand’s Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB), Thai authorities seized 210.22 kilograms (kg) of heroin through the first six months of 2014; this volume represented a decline from 2013 (784.6 kg of heroin for the year) but above 2012 (127.5 kg for the year). In March 2014, officers in Surat Thani raided two warehouses and seized 147 kg of heroin destined for Malaysia.
Methamphetamine trafficking and use continues to be the primary drug concern in Thailand. Thailand remains one of the largest markets for methamphetamine pills – known locally as "yaa-baa " or "crazy medicine." Most methamphetamine pills entering Thailand are manufactured in Burma and believed to be consumed domestically, with unknown quantities transported onward to other regional markets. The majority of crystal methamphetamine (“ice”) seized in Thailand is destined for regional markets. The production of methamphetamine by the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in Burma and other local producers remains an issue of great concern to Thailand. Through June 2014, ONCB seized 457.9 kg of crystal methamphetamine and 5.06 metric tons (MT) of methamphetamine tablets, compared to 1.4 MT of crystal methamphetamine and 11.45 MT of methamphetamine tablets in all of 2013.
The amount of Africa-sourced crystal methamphetamine entering the country was down by approximately 50 percent during this reporting period, and 12 couriers of African trafficking networks were arrested transiting through or destined for Thailand.
Thailand has a small domestic market for ecstasy and cocaine, largely among affluent residents in large cities, as well as tourists and expats. Ecstasy arrives in Thailand from a variety of sources and routes including overland from Cambodia, Malaysia, and Burma, and via commercial flights from Europe and Canada. Lesser quantities of cocaine continue to be imported into Thailand, mostly destined for transshipment to international markets. In Thailand, the cocaine market is still largely controlled by African drug syndicates. However, South American and Chinese trafficking groups are also involved in bulk cocaine smuggling, typically for export to China, Hong Kong, and Australia. During the first six months of 2014, 11.9 kg of cocaine were seized, compared to 69.8 kg during all of 2013 and 17.9 kg of cocaine in 2012.
Marijuana remains less visible, but is readily available in Thailand and throughout the region. Cannabis is domestically cultivated in limited quantities, with bulk shipments imported from Laos for domestic use and regional export. Kratom (mitragyna speciosa), a local drug with modest psychotropic properties, is grown locally and consumed primarily in Thailand’s southern provinces. During the first six months of 2014, 16.77 MT of marijuana was seized, compared to 26.32 MT in 2013.
Ketamine use appears to be limited to use as an alternative to methamphetamine tablets. Through the first six months of 2014, seizures of ketamine (27.1 kg) were slightly ahead of the volume seized in 2013 (31.4 kg for the year). Most of the ketamine destined for Thailand is transshipped through India, Malaysia, and Singapore. Thailand-based enterprises continue to market steroids and human growth hormone for worldwide sale.
Thailand’s penalties for drug-related offenses are severe, and can include the death penalty for those convicted of possession of more than 20 grams of Schedule I substances with “intent to sell,” a punishment reportedly last used in 2009.
3. Drug Abuse Awareness, Demand Reduction, and Treatment
Thailand carries out comprehensive demand reduction programs, combining drug abuse prevention programs with treatment for addicts. According to ONCB, drug treatment programs have reached over 700,000 drug addicts since the government announced its counter-narcotics priorities in September 2011. The Thai government also invests in building awareness of the perils of drug addiction, but the effectiveness of these awareness programs is difficult to gauge, with the methamphetamine problem growing rather than shrinking. Heroin and opium usage remain relatively low and stable.
As a matter of policy, the Thai government does not permit, encourage, or facilitate illicit production or distribution of narcotic/psychotropic drugs or other controlled substances, or the laundering of drug proceeds, by individuals or government agencies. However, corruption among working-level officials remains a problem in Thailand, and some officials are susceptible to bribery. No current senior Thai government official is known to have engaged in those types of activities.
C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives
Thailand and the United States enjoy a strong cooperative relationship. U.S. law enforcement agencies receive willing cooperation from their Thai counterparts and support from the highest levels of the Thai government. Thailand is one of several countries in which DEA maintains Sensitive Investigative Units (SIUs). Thai SIU participants receive specialized training and undergo a rigorous vetting process.
Additionally, the United States provides a stream of training and assistance to Thai law enforcement and criminal justice entities on some of Thailand’s top priorities, including counternarcotics. Through the U.S.-funded International Law Enforcement Academy and other programs, including the U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force West, the United States and Thailand cooperate on a variety of counternarcotics training activities and work to enhance regional cooperation against transnational crime. The United States is also supporting Thailand in a long-term project to further professionalize all substance use treatment staff in the country through the dissemination of a U.S.-developed Universal Treatment Curriculum and international credentialing through the Colombo Plan’s International Centre for Certification and Education of Addiction Professionals.
The U.S. government enjoys a particularly close and collaborative relationship with Thai law enforcement. The U.S. government has encouraged laws and regulations more closely aligned with international standards, and helped Thailand develop more consistent adherence to rule of law principles. All such activities contribute to the fight against illicit drug trafficking and other transnational crime.