Online sale, new routes 'will lead to boom in drug trade'
Online sales, cheaper prices and new routes are 'making fight tougher'
While the economy still shows no sign of pulling out of last year's tepid growth, the one industry that may see a real boom in 2020 is the drug trade.
Methamphetamine is expected to be the most smuggled commodity, followed by its crystallised version "ice" and marijuana. The transport of drugs via land and water will be "continual and unlimited" this year, Narcotics Suppression Bureau chief Chinnapat Sarasin said.
Thailand's key drug buster based his assessment on the huge caches of methamphetamine seized not just in Thailand but also in the region as well as countries outside Southeast Asia.
He said there are many new factors to blame for this boom, ranging from an increase in production in nearby sites like the Golden Triangle to a change in the routes and the use of social media to make clandestine deals.
Pol Lt Gen Chinnapat, who leads the state anti-drug operation arm, said his agency will have to be more active on the online front in addition to keeping a close eye on the country's northern, northeastern and western regions.
"We need to trace every clue to break up the gangs," he told the Bangkok Post.
Pol Lt Gen Chinnapat also put the rise in drug smuggling down to external causes, with local demand serving as a stimulus.
Drug gangs see Thailand as a key market, because it is close to the Golden Triangle, a notorious drug manufacturing hotbed in the mountainous area overlapping Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.
Parts of the Golden Triangle, which is upstream of the Mekong River, are controlled by the Myanmar-based Shan State Army.
"Drugs are continually produced there," Pol Lt Gen Chinnapat said, attributing the massive scale of manufacturing to easily-found chemical precursors and better production technology.
Demand in Thailand, both from traders and addicts, is also helping stimulate the trade. Ice and ketamine, an anaesthetic that can induce a trance-like state, are especially popular among young party-goers, he said.
Like speed, which is cheaper due to oversupply, "ice can also be bought for a lot less", Pol Lt Gen Chinnapat said, adding the cheap prices are also increasing the demand.
On top of this, he said, drugs can easily be sold via Facebook, Twitter and Line chat applications because it is difficult to track private conversations.
Also, he said, social media does not just expand trade, it also helps traders cut costs. Instead of having to hire couriers, gangsters can simply organise a "dead drop", in which buyers can pick up the drugs themselves at a specified location, Pol Lt Gen Chinnapat said.
Online financial transactions and delivery via mail are also a concern. While online payments can cause a headache for investigators if they are not abreast with technology, checking every parcel can also be an uphill task.
"This makes our job of intercepting, investigating and conducting crackdowns more difficult," Pol Lt Gen Chinnapat said.
Though the borders in the North continue to be the main smuggling route from the Golden Triangle, traffickers are also opting for other channels to avoid checkpoints.
Some gangs have started bringing the illicit cargo over the Mekong River into northeastern provinces by making the most of "blind spots" on the extensive riverbank.
"We don't have enough officers to oversee such a large area," Pol Lt Gen Chinnapat admitted.
Traffickers are also making use of the mountainous western front, which includes the provinces of Kanchanaburi and Tak, as they can easily evade checkpoints, he added.
The Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB) of the Royal Thai Police has joined up with other state agencies, including military units, and is also seeking closer cooperation with neighbouring countries to crack down on drug networks in a more proactive manner.
Domestically, the authorities are continuing to monitor drug usage in entertainment venues and communities, while internationally they have joined up with their foreign counterparts to intercept narcotics right from production sites.
Thailand and Myanmar agreed in 2016 to "seal off" the Golden Triangle by strengthening efforts to block drugs from being trafficked out of shared borders as well as preventing drug precursors from being brought into the area.
"Producers, smugglers and traders are all on our list," Pol Lt Gen Chinnapat warned as he vowed the authorities will never give up the fight against drug trafficking.