Monday, March 19, 2012

A blast from the past: South Korea a major source of methamphetamine in the late 1980s

... And presumably for part of the 1990s as well. Back in 1990-something, I remember citing this October 1989 article and looking up the source material for a paper or news article I wrote (probably when I was an undergrad in the 1990s but possibly a grad student in the 2000s).

I ran across it again last week while doing a short paper for a public health biology course on concerns over the rise of methamphetamine in East Asia:
South Korea Seen as Major Source of 'Ice' Narcotic:
Rising use of the potent drug is causing alarm in Hawaii, and Japanese gangs are reported active in the trade

SEOUL — Investigators believe South Korea is a major source of the highly pure crystal methamphetamine that is raising alarm in Hawaii as "ice," a potent, smokable form of the drug that authorities say is already catching on in the U.S. mainland and may rival crack cocaine in popularity.

Indeed, crystal methamphetamine is already the drug of choice in East Asia, where marijuana and cocaine are scarce and heroin is all but unheard of on the street. In Japan, the most lucrative market for methamphetamine, police say they annually arrest more than 20,000 people for using and trafficking in the drug, nearly all of which is smuggled in from Taiwan and South Korea.

Methamphetamine abuse is booming in South Korea, too. The Seoul government has vowed to crack down on the epidemic before it gets out of control, but the illicit trade in the drug has evaded Asian authorities for decades.

Crystal methamphetamine has been widely used in the United States for many years in its conventional, powdered form, popularly known as "speed" or "meth" and usually taken by injection, snorted or ingested. Notorious as a favorite drug of motorcycle gangs, experts say its abuse has been rising among the general population in Southern California in recent years, supplied by hundreds of local laboratories.

Ordinary methamphetamine is simple enough to prepare that there is little reason to import it from abroad. Signs are now emerging, however, that a pure grade of methamphetamine cooked in clandestine laboratories in South Korea and other parts of Asia is finding its way at least as far as Hawaii. There, a Filipino youth gang called the "Hawaii Brothers" initially popularized the drug in its "ice," or rock form, and sparked a boom in abuse, according to investigators.

Late last month, South Korean authorities announced the uncovering of a major drug ring that had produced more than a quarter ton of methamphetamine since 1987 and in July allegedly delivered 22 pounds, with a street value estimated as high as $750,000, to a former U.S. serviceman and his wife in Honolulu.

Although Vietnamese couriers were intercepted earlier this year bringing into Hawaii small quantities of methamphetamine believed to have originated in Hong Kong and Taiwan, law enforcement authorities have yet to catch anyone in the act of smuggling the drug from South Korea.

Capt. Henry Lau of the Honolulu Police Department's narcotics division said informants have told investigators that a good deal of the "ice" is coming from South Korea, however. The fact that no major laboratories have been discovered on the islands also points to imports, he said.

"We believe our crystal meth, or the knowledge of how to make it, is coming from Korea," Lau said in a telephone interview.

Yoo Chang Jong, chief of the narcotics division of the Public Prosecutor's Office, which enforces South Korea's drug laws, said a recent surge in overseas tourism by South Koreans is believed to have provided a screen for drug couriers. The Seoul government lifted passport restrictions in January, and foreign travel was up 72% in the first eight months of this year.

Yoo speaks of a "white triangle" for Asian methamphetamine trade: After police cracked down on production in Japan in the 1960s, Japanese criminal gangs relocated their illegal laboratories to South Korea and later to Taiwan, where it is cooked and smuggled back to Japan to feed the habits of tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of addicts.

Lately, however, the pattern has been changing, Yoo said. Tighter border controls have resulted in the diversion of much of the South Korean methamphetamine to the domestic market, resulting in a rapidly growing drug abuse problem. Methamphetamine arrests ballooned from 417 cases in 1984 to 3,208 last year, Yoo said.

"The government feels there is a crisis situation in Korea," said Yoo, whose staff will increase from 59 to 256 investigators by December.

The methamphetamine trade also has spread to Southeast Asia, where Japanese gangsters, known as yakuza , whose ranks include many ethnic Koreans, are increasingly active, as well as to the United States, Yoo said.

"Now it includes Hawaii and perhaps California too," Yoo said. "Only quite recently have investigators recognized the change of flow."

A woman identified as Lee Jin Suk, 54, confessed to delivering 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of methamphetamine to a "Mr. and Mrs. Alexander" in Honolulu in July, Yoo said. Lee, said by prosecutors to be the wife of a former National Assembly member, was among 23 people arrested last month in the largest drug operation ever prosecuted in South Korea.
Think how far the meth epidemic has become in the US since then, and how its primary source seems to be local production instead of imports.

Nowadays, interestingly, it is North Korea that is a rising threat for methamphetamine trafficking. There is a connection, no doubt, with Japan being one of the nexuses.

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5 comments:

  1. I can't wait to see Korean version of Breaking Bad. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What an intriguing idea. Breaking Bad has been a recent favorite show, but I'm about a season or two behind (no spoilers, please!) because I don't have cable TV and I rely on Netflix and Hulu+ for all my viewing purposes.

      Ditto with Weeds (haven't caught the new season yet), which isn't as brilliant as it once was, but is still worth watching. Hmm... for someone who has never taken illegal drugs in his life, I'm certainly attracted to television shows about the seedy underbelly of drug trafficking. Must be my Compton roots.

      One show, of course, sends you away with the notion that marijuana ought to be legal, but the other doesn't give you that impression of meth.

      Anyway, your comment has intrigued me. I wonder what a Korean version of BB would look like. Set it in contemporary times (2010s)? How about in the 1980s and 1990s during the heyday of local dominance and international exports?

      I think there would be a lot of nostalgia to mine there (Olympics, last gasps of dictatorship, budding democracy, etc., etc.), plus they'd get to go to Hawaii at least once.

      Alternatively, you could go back to the 1930s and 1940s when the Japanese occupiers were supposedly getting conscripted soldiers and workers tweaked for battle and for hard work.

      Delete
  2. So South korea, North Korea, and Japan is something like the golden triangle but of meth?
    Its hard for me to believe that South Korea has a drug problem. Especially a meth problem because it is such a hard drug. I have always thought of South Korea as one of the strictest countries when it comes to drugs. I don't remember seeing any junkies in Korea, just people who sleep in the streets.

    Also, meth has been used in America for a long time. It is actually considered the American drug. It has something to do with the American ideology that if you work hard and sacrifice you can always achieve your dreams (meth high allowing you to work for days without eating or rest). I believe American soldiers were also given the drug during world war 2.
    you should watch this video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DA7oKMQeVKM

    ReplyDelete
  3. So South korea, North Korea, and Japan is something like the golden triangle but of meth?
    Its hard for me to believe that South Korea has a drug problem. Especially a meth problem because it is such a hard drug. I have always thought of South Korea as one of the strictest countries when it comes to drugs. I don't remember seeing any junkies in Korea, just people who sleep in the streets.

    Also, meth has been used in America for a long time. It is actually considered the American drug. It has something to do with the American ideology that if you work hard and sacrifice you can always achieve your dreams (meth high allowing you to work for days without eating or rest). I believe American soldiers were also given the drug during world war 2.
    you should watch this video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DA7oKMQeVKM

    ReplyDelete
  4. Mr_Harbinger knows how to get your ice from hushmail

    ReplyDelete

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