A surprising crystal meth epidemic

According to a report in the Asian Wall Street Journal, North Korea is grappling with widespread use of crystal meth. Jason Strother writes:

North Korea is experiencing a "drug epidemic," according to a study published in the Spring 2013 edition of the journal North Korea Review.

"A New Face of North Korean Drug Use: Upsurge in Methamphetamine Abuse Across the Northern Areas of North Korea" explains how during the past several years meth production has gone from government-owned factories to privately run underground laboratories and "home kitchens."

According to the report, it's not the first time that a drug originally intended for export into China and beyond ended up flooding North Korea's domestic market. (snip)

"Almost every adult in that area (of North Korea) has experienced using ice and not just once," says Kim Seok-hyang, who co-authored the study. "I estimate that at least 40% to 50% are seriously addicted to the drug."

Although the piece mentions that meth was intended for export to China and other countries, and mentions government-owned factories, it ignores a longstanding open secret: that North Korea earned a good portion of its limited foreign exchange resources by manufacturing and exporting meth to Japan, where it was the most-abused drug. This was true in the 1960s, when I first was in Japan and discovered that there were considerable numbers of meth abusers who were supplied by gangsters, many of them of Korean ethnic origins, some of whom got their supplies from the North.

Japan's meth problem was a kind of original sin punishment for Japan's militarism. The military supplied meth to their soldiers and workers, to enable them to work and fight longer hours.  During the horrendous aftermath, with the country in ruins, meth use was a way to get through the day for countless millions, and even when Japan got back on its feet, meth use continued, especially by people like truck drivers, who had to work long hours.

The North Koreans have known their own horrendous conditions, including mass starvation that was as calamitous as any military defeat could be. So, I suppose if meth's ingredients were already available, there is no surprise that people used them to make meth for their home market. Since North Korea is a police state that throws entire families into prison camps for a comment denigrating the country's leadership, obviously meth is tolerated.

The world's worst country just got even worse in my estimation.