Gangs in Taiwan, China and Thailand have colluded to smuggle ketamine into Thailand for re-export to lucrative markets in Malaysia and Hong Kong, a source in the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) has revealed.
The revelation was made after "powdered milk ketamine", a new variant of the drug, was found to have killed seven people in Bangkok this week.
The Royal Thai Police said it could not yet confirm whether the substance, which looks like powdered milk, was a combination of ketamine and sleeping pills as speculated. Results of the autopsies on the victims have yet to be released.
According to an expert, the "powdered milk ketamine" was mainly composed of four substances -- ketamine, heroin, ice and a sleeping pill called "Rosé" (ramelteon, commonly prescribed under the brand name Rozerem). Three other substances found were sodium pentothai, pencuronium bromide and potassium chloride, which are used to execute prisoners, according to the academic.
On Tuesday, the ONCB source said drug trafficking networks in Taiwan and China have worked with Thai drug gangs to smuggle ketamine into Thailand before re-exporting it mainly to Malaysia and Hong Kong where the drug is sold at high prices.
Some of the re-exported drug was also sold to customers back in Taiwan. Locally, the abuse of ketamine is spreading in provinces with a large number of night spots, said the source.
Dealers offer large discounts on ketamine to lure potential customers. Liquid ketamine is retailed for between 400-500 baht a bottle and the crystal form of the drug for between 200-500 baht per small spoon. Ketamine typically changes hands for 350,000-370,000 baht per kilogramme.
The source said drug enforcement agencies in countries along the Mekong River have exchanged information on the ketamine trade and smuggling. They found the production bases are scattered in India, China and Myanmar.
In 2018, China seized more than 5.7 tonnes of ketamine heading to this country. Some of it was packed in tea sachets and smuggled along with ya ice into Thailand through border areas in Chiang Dao, Mae Ai and Fang districts of Chiang Mai as well as through the the northeastern provinces of Bung Kan, Nakhon Phanom and Nong Khai.
The largest haul of ketamine confiscated by law enforcement authorities weighed up to 800 kilogrammes, according to the ONCB source.