(Photo) A "No Smuggling and Drug Trafficking" sign set up by the Ministry of Public Security of the People's Republic of China. Photographed in July 2017 by ISHIMARU Jiro


◆ No choice but to become drug dealers

It has been almost a year since the strict coronavirus prevention measures started. The economy has become increasingly paralyzed and people are wandering around on the brink of starvation because they no longer have any cash income. As a result, with poverty and hunger spreading across the country, methamphetamine drug crimes are on the rise and the authorities are struggling to crack down on them.  (Kang Ji-won)

So why is methamphetamine use increasing even though people are living in poverty and have no money? On January 18, after the 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea finished, a reporting partner living in Ryanggang Province reported on the spread of methamphetamine after interviewing police officers and examining notices posted by the authorities.

“Trade with China has been halted due to COVID-19 countermeasures and, in addition, business has been completely shut down due to stricter controls. Ordinary people are living in very bad conditions now. There are many people who have no money to buy the food they need for the day, so they must borrow money or sell their household goods. These people have no choice but to turn to trafficking in 'hiropon' (methamphetamine),” says the reporting partner.

According to the reporting partner, these days the selling price of methamphetamine is 120-150 Chinese yuan per gram. (100 Chinese yuan is about US$15.38), and it is sold in small packages of 0.1 gram. The retail price is said to be about 10,000 won in North Korean currency for a 0.1-gram package (10,000 won is about US$1.63 on January 20).

It seems that the increase in the use of methamphetamine after the COVID-19 outbreak is a national trend. Another reporting partner living in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province, spoke with ASIAPRESS about the reasons why sales of small quantities of methamphetamine are spreading locally.

“More and more people are turning to methamphetamine as a way of giving up and escaping from a life of poverty and uncertainty. In previous years, methamphetamine was smuggled from chemical factories in Hamhung and Pyongsong, and transported to various other places but recently smuggling hubs have been established in a variety of rural areas and the supply chain has become more diverse too. Most of the traffickers are housewives who do not have to commute to work.”

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