Analysts say North Korea Faces Crystal Meth Epidemic

Some North Korean refugees continue the drug abuse after fleeing homeland.

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Sabtu, 16 Nov 2013 14:38 WIB

Author

Jason Strother

Analysts say North Korea Faces Crystal Meth Epidemic

North Korea, Seoul, Crystal Meth, epidemic, Jason Strother

According to a recent study in the journal North Korea Review, methamphetamine is widely used in North Korea.

It’s a highly addictive drug, known locally as “ice”.

25-year-old student who asked to go by a fake name Kim Hyun-bin told me that he used crystal meth for the last time in 2009. It was when he escaped North Korea.

“Right before I crossed the river into China, I did a lot of it. I was really nervous. I took about 2 grams, I inhaled the drug around ten times.  It allowed me to focus, all I could think was Go, Go ,Go. I didn’t sleep for two days after that,” he says.
 
Kim says back home he and his friend’s used the drug off and on for around three years. 

It was easy to buy, he recalls, as dealers would sell the drug – locally known as “ice” –
openly on the streets of his hometown Hamhung.  

“It was a social, fun thing to do with my friends.  One time we got hold of an illegal, South Korean TV series on DVD from the black market. It’s about 60-hours long.  We used “Ice” to help us stay awake and watch the whole thing.”
 
Kim Hyun-bin isn’t the only defector who has had experience with crystal meth. 

One man told me he used it to stay awake at night while working as a truck driver.

Another young woman told me that some use it as a skin cleanser to help gets rid of acne.
 
According to researchers, North Korea is experiencing a crystal meth epidemic.
 
Kim Seok-hyang is a professor of Unification Studies at Seoul’s Ewha Women’s University.

Kim’s research reveals that it’s particularly prevalent in areas along the northern border with China.

“The rate of serious addiction in that area, almost every adult has experienced not just once, every once in a while. I think, at least 40-50 percent are seriously addicted.”
 
The research says that crystal meth production originally started as a government-run business for export abroad.

But several years ago production moved from factories to home kitchens and hit the domestic market.

Kim says most North Koreans don’t think “Ice” is addictive.
 
“He said “Ice” is okay, it’s a good thing.  It’s a cure all. In the North Korean countryside, there are no hospitals or doctors, so you have to have it for emergencies.”
 
But some North Koreans meth users turn to other drugs to help them quit. 

Kim Young-il, another defector, who heads a support group for North Koreans in Seoul.
 
“Because “Ice” keeps you awake all night, many users had trouble sleeping. So a few years ago, they started taking a black market sleeping pill to help them. The government actually cracked down on the sleeping pills. Pyongyang knows about the meth problem and tries to stop it too, but too many people, including officials use it.”
 
Kim adds this isn’t the first time North Korea has faced a drug epidemic. 

He says back in the 1990s, smoking opium was the trend of the day.  
 
According to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, the government body that handles defector resettlement, North Koreans continue to abuse drugs in their new home as well.

A paper published by government doctors reports that some refugees go from doctor to doctor refilling medical prescriptions and some accidently overdose.
 
Refugee advocates, like Shin Mi-nyeo, say this reflects the lack of education in North Korea regarding legal and illegal drugs.  
 
“If North Koreans bring drugs into South Korea or use them here, they aren’t using it for enjoyment or to sell.  They think that its medicine, they think it’s safe.” 
 
Shin amd other advocates say the South Korean government must do more to educate North Koreans how to use medication responsibly and warn them of the dangers of illegal drugs.
 
Back inside the Seoul café, Kim Hyun-bin seems happy remembering the fun he used to have using the drug.

He still doesn’t think it’s addictive. But he left drugs at the border.

“No, I wouldn’t use it again. There’s no point any more, my experimenting days with it are over.”
 


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