North Korea hooked on crystal meth as ’50 percent’ of population ‘seriously addicted’

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North Korea is readying itself to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the creation of the Workers’ Party of Korea. Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un will be keen to show-off his country’s military prowess. Reports suggest that Kim will use the military parade to unveil newly developed, powerful missiles.

It would, experts say, act as the perfect time as the world watches the hermit kingdom reveal itself for a brief moment, looking to bolster internal unity and draw US attention amid deadlocked nuclear diplomacy between the countries.

It is only on such events that the global community is privy to a snapshot of North Korean life.

Much of the rest of the country, according to UN reports, however, lives in abject poverty, with food, water and electrical supplies in regular shortages.

The below average living standards, reports suggest, has led to a desperation among citizens who have turned to using and selling crystal meth, or “Ice” as it is known in the North.

Asia expert Isaac Stone Fish detailed the extent to which the drug has embedded itself in North Korea during his 2013 Foreign Policy report.

Here, Mr Fish interviewed a number of members of the crystal meth trade as well as users.

He explained that: “Crystal meth is everywhere, but there are few locations better suited for the drug than North Korea. Produced from chemicals accessible even in a country as isolated as North Korea, it also suppresses appetite; that makes it ideal for a nation scarred by hunger.

“And there are many underemployed scientists – North Korea has a surprisingly educated populace – with the ability and desire to toil away at perfecting the formula in remote labs scattered across the country’s mountainous interior.”

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The situation has become so severe that, as Kim Seok-hyang, co-author of the paper “A New Face of North Korean Drug Use: Upsurge in Methamphetamine Abuse Across the Northern Areas of North Korea” told the Wall Street Journal in 2013, “almost every adult” in those areas of the country “has experienced using Ice, and not just once”.

He estimated “at least 40 to 50 percent are seriously addicted”.

From being made in laboratories during the early Noughties, the paper claimed crystal meth production had largely shifted to underground laboratories and “home kitchens”.


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Reports of the drug in the country first emerged in the late Nineties after a four-year famine tore through the country, killing around five percent of the country’s then 22 million population.

According to Mr Fish: “Along with the breakdown of social order and institutions, out-of-work scientists, especially in the industrial city of Hamhung, started looking for new ways to earn money and feed their families.”

He said that with access to chemicals, “scientists could use shuttered factories to produce the drug”.

He continued: “Perhaps the scientists chose factories hidden among North Korea’s mountainous countryside, or perhaps North Korean authorities did not know or care about the notoriously pungent smell that ‘cooking’ crystal meth throws off.

“More likely, North Korean authorities participated in the trade; they had been smugglers of other contraband, including bootleg cigarettes and heroin.”

In 2013, the North upped its distribution game with the first confirmed instance of the country attempting to bring crystal meth into the US.

Five foreign nationals were charged with conspiracy to import roughly 40 pounds of crystal meth from North Korea to the US.

They had agreed to sell the meth, at nearly $30,000 (£23,000) a pound, to a buyer who was actually working for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

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