Opium Powder, Pulvis Opii’ manufactured by the Ranam Pharmaceutical Factory in Chongjin,
North Hamgyong Province. Image: Daily NK
The North Korean authorities are reportedly carrying out a major crackdown on illicit drug producers and dealers, calling for those involved to “turn themselves in” while deploying police dogs and conducting searches of suspect residences.
“The Ministry of State Security started working with local police in February to track down clandestine operations manufacturing and selling illegal drugs,” a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on March 12. “Hamhung, already widely known to be a drug production hotspot, and Sunchon have been the primary targets of the crackdown.”
Hamhung in South Hamgyong Province and Sunchon in South Pyongan Province are believed to be popular areas for illicit drug production due to the historical prevalence of chemical plants and pharmaceutical factories in the surrounding areas, allowing for ease of access to otherwise difficult-to-source ingredients. The authorities are focusing their efforts on these areas, likely under the belief that widespread drug use represents a threat to the survival of the regime.
“People’s Unit (inminban) leaders have conveyed instructions from State Security and the police to anyone producing, dealing, or holding drugs to turn themselves in,” the source said. “They also told residents at the meeting that the authorities will be deploying police dogs to conduct searches.”
“Talk of the use of dogs has created a tense atmosphere, but the calls for people to turn themselves in has not led to much. They are promising amnesty (according to the orders) for those possessing small amounts, but anyone holding over 1 kg will be subject to extensive interrogations to ascertain information about the dealers, producers, and ingredient suppliers,” he added.
However, with supplies sourced from state-run chemical companies and drug dealers in Pyongyang and the border region found to have government connections in the past, the authorities will be wary of the unintended consequences of investigating high-level cadres in the crackdown. Security agents involved in the crackdown may avoid questioning powerful individuals out of fear of retaliation.
“A large number of illicit drug producers are donju (members of the newly-affluent middle class) who are in business with State Security to sell drugs and earn foreign currency for the central government,” the source said, adding that these individuals will have been warned ahead of the crackdown.
It thus appears that the crackdown, carried out by a government department heavily involved in the manufacturing of illicit drugs, will only end up targeting individuals involved in dealing and distributing drugs at the lower levels. In other words, the intention is to allow production to continue in order to maintain profits from illicit drug exports, but cut off the manufacturing and use of drugs by local residents, as widespread drug use could lead to further difficulties for the government.
“Several days ago, the authorities conducted a surprise raid using a search dog on the apartment of a middle-aged couple in Hamhung and found just 0.2 grams of ice (methamphetamine),” a separate source in South Pyongan Province said, pointing to the extreme nature of the sweeps over small amounts of drugs.
“As a result, locals are murmuring about the cruelty of the authorities in these kinds of raids, complaining that ‘cadres should be searched first.'”