Since North Korea passed legislation to prevent drug-related crimes, the country’s authorities have been inspecting units capable of involvement in the manufacture of narcotics, especially the State Academy of Sciences and its regional branches.

A source in Pyongyang told Daily NK on Monday that after a plenary meeting of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly adopted the “Law of the DPRK on the Prevention of Drug-related Crimes” in early July, the government has been singling out for inspection particular units that could involve themselves in the manufacture of drugs.

The inspections have been ongoing since the start of the month.

According to the source, these are not spot inspections. Rather, North Korea ordered inspections of specific research institutions, including the State Academy of Sciences and its Pyongsong and Hamhung branches, as the first inspections in the execution stage of the new anti-drug law.

The source said the Ministry of State Security headquarters is carrying out the inspections as a joint effort with local ministry branches and the branches of the Ministry of Social Security “in accordance with the state’s will to completely root out illicit drug use.” He said the inspections are scheduled to last three months, and that the units undergoing inspection are facing them with trepidation.

state academy of sciences
Kim Jong Un poses with staff of the State Academy of Sciences in 2014. / Image: Rodong Shinmun

In particular, North Korea has laid down the rule that it will catch everyone who has illegally sold or distributed the chemical cyanbenzyline, a major ingredient in the manufacture of drugs. So scientists and researchers at the State Academy of Sciences who handle materials used to manufacture drugs reportedly “feel nervous” as well.

People at scientific research institutions believe almost no one is safe in these inspections because most researchers are involved in drugs. Accordingly, they think the level of punishment will depend on how tough or lenient the inspection bodies are.

Locals who have been using narcotics to treat diseases amid shortages of cold medicine are blaming the state for “forcing us to use narcotics like wonder drugs.”

“Locals are complaining that they have been making due for almost 30 years with narcotics, and if you cut even those off, they’ll have nothing to treat illnesses with,” said the source. “Due to the coronavirus, you can’t find Chinese drugs, and narcotics are openly traded like they are ordinary cold medicines. People are saying even law enforcement doesn’t think it’s a big deal as long as there’s no roaring trade with drugs crossing the border, and it’s only the leadership that’s making an issue of this.” 

The source further reported that the authorities have ordered investigations of manufacturers such as Sunchon Pharmaceutical Factory and Hungnam Pharmaceutical Factory, as well as chemical supply companies, when the inspections of research labs are completed.

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Jong So Yong is one of Daily NK's freelance reporters. Questions about her articles can be directed to