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Problem of growing drug abuse for the youth of Laos

With its neighbours Myanmar (Burma), Vietnam and Thailand, Laos used to be known as the ‘Golden Triangle’ for opium.

Most of the world’s heroin came from the mountains of this region before Afghanistan became the largest producer in this century. Laos has all but stamped out production of opium. But now the country faces a new drugs challenge. An upsurge in the trafficking of methamphetamine is threatening its young people.

According to the country’s representative working with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Laos is facing “an unprecedented increase” in the use of the highly additive methamphetamine. Seizures of the drug have rocketed from one million tablets in 2008 to more than 24 million in 2010. During 2009, 95 per cent of those seeking treatment for drugs were hooked on methamphetamine.

The drug is known in Laos as ‘yabaa’ or ‘crazy drug’. IRIN reports on the rise in the trafficking of this drug, which can now be bought for as little as 4-6 dollars per tablet. According to the news agency, it is unlikely the drug is being manufactured in Laos. It is most probably being sourced from neighbouring countries such as Myanmar. Unlike opium, yabaa is particularly targeted at the youth market of Laos. Over half the country’s population are under 20 years of age and yabaa is particularly attractive to young men, many of whom lack education opportunities and the prospect of employment.

IRIN spoke to one young man who became addicted to the drug as a 17-year old. Phanthavy Bounmany began by taking tablets once a fortnight, but soon developed a serious habit. Phanthavy has now successfully overcome his addiction, thanks to receiving treatment at one of eight rehabilitation centres in Laos. But he warns that the number of young users taking the drug is increasing. “If people use yabba in the area where you stay, they will pressure you to use it and then you will pressure your friends”, he said.

The government of Laos is working hard to tackle this rising social problem among its young. In June, it marked International Day Against Drugs by burning a huge seizure, including over 1 million yabba tablets. A national drugs prevention campaign was also launched by local celebrities. The Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision (LCDC) admits that Laos is bearing “the brunt” of the trafficking problem. But the LCDC says the government is “seriously committed to fighting this social evil”.

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