There were no significant quantities of opiates, methamphetamine, or other drugs cultivated or produced in Thailand in 2015. Various transnational criminal organizations use Thailand as a destination and transshipment country for illicit drugs destined for regional and international markets. Thailand is a net importer of illicit narcotics, and domestic use continues to remain a serious problem. The primary drugs of concern continue to be amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), primarily methamphetamine, and abuse of these drugs continues to increase. Increased ATS availability is primarily due to growing cross-border trafficking and importation of methamphetamine from neighboring Burma.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Thai authorities have not reported eradicating opium poppy since 2013, when 264 hectares of poppy were reportedly destroyed. In 2014, there was a slight decrease in heroin and cocaine seizures, but continued growth in MDMA, crystal methamphetamine, and methamphetamine tablet seizures.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
Thai authorities continue to focus on tracking the movements of large international drug trafficking organizations operating in Thailand. In 2015, the Royal Thai Police Narcotics Suppression Bureau (RTP/NSB) increased its focus on Africa-based drug trafficking organizations responsible for controlling a large portion of the drug trade in Thailand. Thailand’s counternarcotics assets are insufficient to patrol the long and remote borders with Laos, Burma, and Cambodia, where most drugs cross into the country. Thailand continues to increase its efforts to coordinate with neighboring law enforcement entities, with U.S. support for equipment and training.
Thailand has bilateral extradition and mutual legal assistance treaties with the United States. 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
Thai law enforcement agencies continued to seize significant amounts of illegal drugs in 2015. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) worked closely with Thai law enforcement authorities on joint investigations, resulting in the successful disruption of several international drug trafficking organizations.
Trafficking in heroin through Thailand appeared to decrease in 2015, but remains a challenge for Thai law enforcement agencies. The Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) reported that Thai authorities seized 207.1 kilograms (kg) of heroin in 2015, compared to 371 kg in 2014, and 784.6 kg in 2013.
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, where demand for the drug continues to grow. The production of crystal methamphetamine by the United Wa State Army in Burma and other regional producers remains an issue of great concern to Thailand. In 2015, ONCB seized approximately 1.14 metric tons (MT) of crystal methamphetamine and 9.75 MT of methamphetamine tablets, compared to 1019.3 kg of crystal methamphetamine and 11.32 MT of tablets in 2014. ONCB estimates that 80 percent of the drugs smuggled into Thailand enter through its northern border.
There was an increase of inbound couriers carrying crystal methamphetamine to Thailand from China in 2015. Thai authorities believe that the couriers were directed by Africa-based drug syndicates operating in Guangzhou, China.
Thailand has a small domestic market for MDMA (ecstasy) and cocaine, largely among affluent residents in large cities, as well as tourists and expats in Thailand. MDMA arrives in Thailand from a variety of sources and routes including overland from Cambodia, Malaysia, and Burma, and also via commercial flights from Europe and Canada. Through March 2015, approximately 18.5 grams of MDMA were seized, compared to 6.66 kg in 2014. In Thailand, the cocaine market is still largely controlled by Africa-based trafficking networks. However, South American and Chinese trafficking groups are also involved in bulk cocaine smuggling through Thailand, typically for further export to China and Australia. In 2015, approximately 48.8 kg of cocaine were seized, compared to 28.57 kg in 2014 and 69.8 kg in 2013.
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. In 2015, 23.63 MT of dried marijuana were seized, compared to 38.72 MT in all of 2014.
Ketamine consumption appears to be limited to use as an alternative to methamphetamine tablets. In 2015, 26.1 kg of ketamine were seized, compared to 36.1 kg in 2014. South Asian and Taiwanese drug trafficking organizations are prominently involved in ketamine trafficking.
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. Public Information, Prevention, and Treatment
Thailand carries out comprehensive demand reduction programs, combining drug abuse prevention programs with treatment for those suffering from substance abuse disorders. According to the ONCB, drug treatment programs have reached over 700,000 persons with substance abuse disorders since 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. 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 remains a problem in Thailand, and some officials are susceptible to bribery. In 2015, several high level Royal Thai Police officers were accused of numerous offenses due to corruption, removed from office, and subsequently criminally charged.
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 specific to drug trafficking. Through the U.S.-funded International Law Enforcement Academy and other programs, the United States and Thailand are working to enhance regional cooperation to combat transnational crime.
Thailand is also using U.S.-developed curriculum to support training and professionalization of its substance use treatment workforce. With U.S. support, the program is establishing a cadre of national trainers who will disseminate the training throughout the country.
The U.S. government enjoys a particularly close and collaborative relationship with Thai law enforcement. The United States has encouraged the Thai government to adopt laws and regulations more closely aligned with international standards and has 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.
The United States will continue to assist the Thai government in its efforts to promote greater cooperation between its police and prosecutors, prevent corruption, and further advance regional cooperation.