N. Korean woman arrested for using illicit drugs in Chongjin

Woman appears to be suffering from withdrawal symptoms in jail, making it hard for investigators to interrogate her

A North Korean woman in her 50s was recently arrested in the city of Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province, for using illicit drugs to deal with symptoms from chronic hepatitis, Daily NK sources reported on Monday. 

The woman had undergone multiple treatments for her rheumatoid arthritis but fell into despair when they did not seem to work. 

A chronic inflammatory disorder, rheumatoid arthritis primarily affects the joints. 

When multiple medicinal therapies proved ineffective as a treatment for her joints, the woman finally turned to Philopon, a methamphetamine. She reportedly used the drug over several years. 

According to a Daily NK source working for the legal authorities in Chongjin, an investigation by police revealed that the woman had obtained money to pay for the drugs from her daughter, a seller of metals on the Sino-North Korean border. 

The daughter was reportedly unaware that her mother had been using the money for drugs.

Drug enforcement officials conducted a raid on the woman’s house to acquire the drugs, sources said.  


Many North Koreans rely on illicit drugs as “household remedies” to treat their ailments. Philopon, called “ice” in North Korea, is widely used as a painkiller and “cure-all” drug.

As Daily NK reports have shown, many North Koreans turn to such home remedies because of the poor state of the country’s public health system.

When North Korean leader Kim Jong Un came to power in 2012, North Korea launched a massive campaign to eliminate illicit drug use in the country. 

The campaign led to major arrests among drug manufacturing and distribution rings in Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province, and Sunchon, South Pyongan Province.

One gram of Philopon reportedly costs about KPW 15,000 (slightly less than USD 2, based on the KPW-USD exchange rate in Sinuiju, on the Sino-North Korean border).  

North Korean authorities have continued to crack down on illicit drug use and distribution even as the country is in crisis due to COVID-19, sources said. 


Daily NK sources in Chongjin said that police are now investigating who provided the woman with the drugs.

The woman is reportedly difficult to interrogate because of what appear to be withdrawal symptoms: she is complaining vocally about pain, screaming, and suffering from spasms. 

Investigators reportedly physically beat the woman to calm her down for an interrogation. The physical abuse appeared to have no effect because the woman continued to scream and suffer from spasms. 

“I heard that she will face a heavy sentence given the current atmosphere [intense crackdowns on illicit drug use]. That’s because illicit drugs for such a long period of time, even though it’s clear she was using the drugs for medicinal purposes,” a source in Chongjin told Daily NK.

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Jong So Yong is one of Daily NK's freelance reporters. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.