Officials in Pyongyang have ordered security forces to clamp down on drugs, and addicts are making long journeys to get their next fix.
Drug addicts make long journeys in search of crystal meth
“Border control has become a lot tighter, making methamphetamine harder to get,” said one source in Ryanggang Province. The drugs crackdown is also designed to reduce the number of defections, illegal phone calls and instances of human trafficking. The situation has changed so much that once profitable drug production operations have shut down in favor of other sources of income.
“Some residents with strong addictions are even traveling to areas where the drugs are produced. In the past, you could get meth in provincial black markets, but these days this has become more challenging, so people are seeking out places where it’s [still] being made,” continued the source.
Supply is still strong in the cities of Hamhung and Sunchon, which are seeing groups of addicts arriving in search of their next hit. “Currently, it’s very hard to find anyone in Hyesan [on the Chinese border] who smuggles or sells drugs. Some people who use meth will travel to Hamhung and then climb through the mountains on foot to get back to Hyesan”, she said.
Government allegedly profiting from drug trade
These movements have not gone unnoticed to authorities. “State Security Department and Ministry of People’s Security officials have figured out that people head to meth-producing cities [to buy drugs] – so officials spend a lot of time on the streets,” the source continued.
The Kim regime has previously been accused of profiting from methamphetamine, but the official line on drug abuse is a harsh one. State news agency KCNA reported that “the illegal use, trafficking and production of drugs which reduce human beings into mental cripples do not exist in the DPRK.”
Despite this apparently hard line on drugs, their use is common and production is a great earner. North Korea technically outlaws both the production and consumption of drugs, and punishments can be harsh for those caught and convicted. Prison sentences of 3-6 months are given to first time offenders, but extreme cases can result in the death penalty.
Myriad uses for methamphetamine in North Korea
Longer prison sentences do not seem to discourage addicts from pursuing drug use upon their release. Drugs also perform many functions, both medical and social. A previous report from Daily NK claimed that “the drug ‘ice’ is seen as an ideal gift” to gain favor with an official. North Koreans also believe that methamphetamine can cure a huge range of medical conditions, from strokes to back pain.
The medical use of crystal meth is sometimes attributed to the crumbling medical system. Although healthcare is supposedly free, services have seen a staggering decline in quality since the mid-1990s. Most residents of North Korea now have to pay for medical care, and official connections are more beneficial than money alone.
Many North Koreans have started to self-medicate with crystal meth or opium, with some falling into addiction. Official crackdowns may contribute to higher levels of drug use given the anxiety which prevails in North Korean society, according to one source.