Drug Seizures Surged in 2022

A military police officer stands guard during a ceremony destroying illicit drugs in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on June 26, 2022. Photo by Sovannara/Xinhua

PHNOM PENH – About five tons of drugs were seized so far in 2022 the drug authority said to reporters on Dec. 19, while drug trafficking in the whole Asia Pacific region has kept increasing in the past years.

Even though the year is not yet over, such a figure already indicates a surge in drug seizures in Cambodia compared to previous years: 4.5 tons of drugs were seized in 2021, while about three tons were found by Cambodian authorities in 2020.

Meas Vyrith, secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD), said one of the main reasons explaining that drugs continue to flow into Cambodia is the constant growth of the global drug market.

“Most of the drugs we seized were [about] to [be exported] to third countries,” he said, without giving any detail on what markets the drug was exported to, nor on the number of cases they’ve cracked down.

He said that the Cambodian authorities are currently studying and exchanging information with neighboring countries to get detailed information on drug import and export cases to and from Cambodia.

Drug production being an illegal business, there is no official data to know what quantities are being produced. Authorities in charge of combatting drug trafficking often use drug seizures as a proxy to estimate whether the drug business is increasing or declining in a given area.

More seizures being made usually indicate an increasing quantity of drugs being produced or trafficked – or both.

On Dec. 11, the Cambodian authorities seized nearly 900 kilograms of drugs in Sihanoukville, in what is considered one of the major crackdowns of the year.

“The major drug lords are foreigners. Most of them are mainland Chinese and Taiwanese” Vyrith said. Apparently, the suspects involved in the Dec. 11 case were also mostly coming from mainland China and Taiwan.

Am Sam Ath, operations director of LICADHO, said the increased number of drugs being seized poses a concern about the active circulation of the illegal drug business in Cambodia.

“Thus, it requires Cambodia to have a high commitment to preventing and cracking down on the drugs flowing through the borders,” he said, adding that immediate action must be taken for any factory or enterprise that is suspected of being involved in the drug business.

In addition to causing security and health issues, drug consumption and trafficking also have long-term social impacts, particularly in prison.

“Most of the inmates are detained in connection with drug trafficking, which poses a serious concern for future drug issues in Cambodia,” Sam Ath said, adding that drug has infiltrated both rural and urban areas, prompting concern about the future of the young Cambodians.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Cambodia has become the world's second-largest producer of heroin – after Myanmar – and a major hub for the manufacture and trade of amphetamine-type stimulants.

The country has evolved into a major drug-trafficking transit country, and the use of illegal drugs, particularly amphetamine-type stimulants, has skyrocketed.

In July 2022, the Cambodian government said that the authorities were collaborating with the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) to identify the masterminds who import chemicals that are then processed into drugs.

Sam Ath of LICADHO said collaborating with the international police would greatly help to tackle drug issues.

The Ministry of Interior reported having seized 17,060 tons of drugs and cracked down on more than 21,366 drug trafficking cases since 2018. A total of 40,316 people have been arrested.

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