Illegal drug usage soars in North Korea: 30% nationwide

Illicit drug distribution and consumption is pervasive across all regions of North Korea, according to new research presented by the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB). Of particular note, it was found that a high proportion of Pyongyang residents use illicit drugs on a regular basis.  
Lee Gwan Hyeong, a researcher at NKDB, headed a seminar on December 1st at the Korea Press Center to discuss the findings of a research project that involved detailed interviews with 18 subjects from February to October 2016. 
“The research revealed that the regular use of illicit drugs became socially acceptable after 2010. At least 30% of all North Koreans are estimated to consume illegal drugs, with usage rates being higher in North Korea’s economic and political capital: Pyongyang,” Mr. Lee said.
One former resident of Pyongyang who was interviewed for the project claimed, “90% of Pyongyang residents use drugs including methamphetamine or opium. It’s gotten to the point that people look at you funny if you don’t do drugs.” Another defector who lived in the Pyongyang area said that drugs are a frequent topic of conversation between friends, and discussing them has become something of a greeting. When asked just how widespread usage has become, Mr. Lee remarked that today’s levels are without precedent even for North Korea. 
“The problem is particularly severe because the distribution and availability of drugs has become ubiquitous throughout the country. A huge proportion of the population – independent of age, sex, or class – has become an active user of ‘ko,’ [the name for a type of methamphetamine],” Mr. Lee continued.
According to the report released at the symposium, methamphetamine usage became widespread in the mid 2000s. On August 13, 2003, the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly changed the categorization of illicit drugs from ‘controlled substances’ to ‘commodities.’
The report cites defector testimony to reveal that, “After 2003, ordinary residents began to perceive drugs as a way to earn money. Further exacerbating the problem was that Ministry of People’s Security agents tasked with cracking down on drug dealers could themselves be bribed with drugs.”  
Experts at the seminar noted that the issue requires more attention and consideration from the international community. 
“We should seriously consider the widespread usage of illicit drugs in North Korea in the context of preparing for reunification. North Koreans who have become addicts cannot simply be neglected. The social forces that have given rise to this trend will not easily be resolved,” Ewha University Social Welfare Professor Yang Ok Kyung argued.    
“The North Korean drug problem is relevant to South Korea with regards to reunification, and it’s also important for the international community to think about solutions.”
The seminar hosted by NKDB was the first in a series intended to generate interest and provide information about the ongoing drug crisis in North Korea. “Through this project, we will continue to pursue research on the North Korean drug problem. We will present collaborative solutions for this difficult problem and work towards international solidarity in addressing the issue,” NKDB Chairman Lee Jae Chun said.
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