AP Photo/ Lee Jin-man
- North Koreans use crystal meth as casually as cigarettes and even give it as a gift for the Lunar New Year.
- It’s viewed there as akin to an energy drink rather than a dangerous drug.
- The country used to produce and smuggle drugs worldwide.
- While meth is now technically illegal in North Korea, people still make it in their homes and smuggle it to China.
In North Korea, crystal meth isn’t recognized as a dangerous drug like it is in the rest of the world.
Methamphetamine is much more common there, where North Koreans "inject or snort the drug as casually as they might smoke a cigarette," according to the New York Times.
It’s even a common Lunar New Year Gift, according to Radio Free Asia,
"Social stigmas surrounding drug use [have disappeared], so people now feel that something big is missing if they don’t have ice or opium prepared as a holiday gift," one person from North Korea told Radio Free Asia on the condition of anonymity.
For the most part, methamphetamines have been viewed in North Korea as being akin to an energy drink.
"Meth, until recently, has been largely seen inside North Korea as a kind of very powerful energy drug — something like Red Bull, amplified," Andrei Lankov, a North Korean expert at Kookmin University in South Korea, told the New York Times.
From the 1990s through the 2000s, the country even made its own methamphetamines and trafficked them through diplomatic channels to raise money.
Around the mid-2000s, North Korea ramped down its official methamphetamine manufacturing and trafficking operations, according to the New York Times. But that left a lot of unemployed people who knew how to make and sell meth, so many of them continued to do so independently. And while meth is now technically illegal in North Korea, it continues to flourish.
"For as long as drug use does not pose a challenge to the regime, but instead dulls the wills and minds of the North Korean people, the government tacitly allows it to go on, despite the tremendous mental and physical health challenges it creates," Greg Scarlatoiu, the executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, told the New York Times.
The international community has cracked down on methamphetamines from North Korea in the past couple of decades. In 2015, the Department of Justice secured guilty pleas from five people who tried to import 100 kilograms of it into the United States. And in 2010, China seized $60 million worth of drugs sent from North Korea that year.
AP Photo/Lee Jin-man
But with few employment opportunities in North Korea, making meth is a way to make money — and work from home.
"Manufacturing methamphetamine requires relatively little in the way of sophisticated equipment; it can be manufactured in a bathtub in someone’s home," Sheena Greitens, a Brookings Institution fellow, told the Daily Beast. "Evidence from my interviews with people involved in the manufacturing and distribution of methamphetamine made inside North Korea consistently indicates that the precursor chemicals are coming from China via cross-border illicit trading and smuggling networks."
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