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Source Countries and
Drug Transit Zones: Southeast Asia

Quick Facts

Less than 1% of all heroin in the United States is of Southeast Asian origin. Furthermore, the price of Southeast Asian heroin has increased 120% and purity has fallen 13% to the lowest average nationwide purity. (Source: Domestic Monitor Program, DEA, 2005)

The region of Southeast Asia has experienced a great deal of change in the last several years. "The Golden Triangle", comprised of Burma, Laos, and Thailand was formally the primary producer of the world's supply of heroin and opium. However, after several years of efforts to counter poppy production, the region's overall decline in poppy cultivation since 1998 has been accompanied by a sharp increase in the production and export of methamphetamine - especially in crystalline form, known as "ice" - and turned the Golden Triangle into a new "Ice Triangle."

Some synthetic drug labs in Southeast Asia are referred to as megalabs and have the capability of producing several hundred million methamphetamine tablets annually. Currently, these tablets are mostly consumed in regional markets but given the large production capacity, methamphetamine has replaced heroin as the primary drug threat to the United States from Southeast Asia.

While Burma remains the second largest opium poppy grower in the world, its share of world opium cultivation fell from 55% in 1998 to just 5% in 2006. Unfortunately, this downward trend halted in 2007 with a slight increase in poppy cultivation. Nevertheless, according to the latest Domestic Monitoring Program report published by the Drug Enforcement Administration, less than one percent of the heroin in the retail market of the United States originates in Southeast Asia. Furthermore, over the same period, the price of Southeast Asian heroin in the United States rose 120% and the purity fell 13% to the lowest average nationwide purity for all heroin samples tested. However, despite the decrease in poppy cultivation, Burma is a significant player in the production and regional trafficking of synthetic drugs such as amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), methamphetamine, and Ketamine. Labs in Burma usually produce methamphetamine in a tablet form referred to as "yaba" but there are also indications that groups in Burma have increased the production and trafficking of "ice" methamphetamine, a much higher purity and more potent form of methamphetamine than the tablets.

Thailand has ceased to be a major source country for opium poppy or heroin and is not a significant drug cultivation or drug production nation. However, Thailand is now a net importer of drugs and also serves as a transshipment point. The primary drugs of concern today in Thailand are ATS and "club drugs" such as MDMA (Ecstasy) and cocaine. Heroin and methamphetamine continue to move from Burma across Thailand's northern border for domestic consumption and export to regional and international markets.

Laos has made tremendous progress in reducing opium cultivation since 1989. Poppy cultivation has declined 96% from a high of 42,000 hectares to just 1,700 hectares in 2006. Unfortunately, trafficking in illegal drugs and controlled chemicals continues unabated throughout Laos, and methamphetamine abuse now affects virtually every socio-economic group in Lao society. While not a primary production country, due to its central location and new highways, Laos is a transit route of choice for Southeast Asian heroin, ATS, and precursor chemicals en route to other nations in the region.

For detailed reports on the drug trafficking situation in Southeast Asian countries please refer to the Southeast Asian section of the State Department's International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

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