The Thai government over the past few years have been so focussed on first the yellow shirts and then the red shirts that hardly anyone has noticed the rampant increase of drug use in Thailand. It is almost getting to epidemic proportions as nothing much is being done to bring it under control. The drug of choice is “yaba” which is the Thai version of amphetamine. It is highly addictive and, like the Thai name suggests, it changes your personality and can send you crazy. The number of yaba addicts have increased greatly over the last year mainly due to the reduction in price. During the height of the Thaksin Drug War the price of a pill went up from 60 baht to as much as 300 or even 350 baht. Dealers laid low and addicts sweated it out. For a period of time there was hardly any drug activity in my neighbourhood. But, that has now all changed as prices have dropped to about 200 baht a pill. It now seems that every second person is a drug dealer as there is quick and easy money in it.
Drive around late at night, or even sometimes during the day, you will see teenagers on the back of motorcycles doing drug deals. I have seen it with my own eyes. There are usually two motorcycles involved. The first goes on ahead to check to see if the coast is clear. If it is, then the second motorcycle, with the drugs, will come to do the drop off. What many people don’t realize is that drugs can change hands quite a few times before they reach the drug addict. The guy at the top of the chain never gets his hands dirty. He will telephone someone and give him instructions to pick the drugs up at one place and then deliver it to another. That person himself will then re-sell the drugs to another person until it reaches the small-time dealers at the bottom of the food chain. This is the guy that takes the biggest risk as he will be coming into contact with many of the drug addicts. Any of them could point the finger to who supplied them.
Dealers higher up in the chain will make the most money for the least amount of work. For example, they will be buying in bulk and probably pay something like 50 baht a pill depending on their contacts. On the other hand, the average local drug dealer will be buying in much smaller amounts. The present going rate for 200 yaba pills is about 21,000 baht which works out at only 105 baht per pill. This price will change due to police activity and whether there has been any major drug hauls lately. As it turns out, around here the police have recently confiscated over three million pills. You would think that would have shut down the whole operation. But, the prices only fluctuated for a short time up to about 23,000 baht for 200 pills. But, a new shipment has just come in from Chiang Rai so the prices have started to go down again. These dealers only sell to 3 or 4 people at a time. They never actually do it themselves. They have “assistants” who they telephone with instructions.
In comparison, the small-time dealers have to do everything themselves and then they can only sell one or two pills at a time to the drug addicts. They probably bought the pills in packs of about 50 pills for say 150 baht per pill and then sell them for about 200 baht each. So, he gets a profit of about 50 baht per pill. Eventually he will make 2,500 baht profit after selling yaba to 20 or so people. But it is hard going as there is a lot of competition out there. Compared to the time of Thaksin, everyone now wants to be a drug dealer. Many of these are drug addicts who need to make extra money to fuel their habit. Even if they bought the drugs for the normal street price of 200 baht, they will try and sell them to friends at school for say 220 baht or more. However, once that school kid becomes more experienced, he will learn where he needs to go to buy at a better price.
It is not really fair to say that the police aren’t doing anything about the problem. However, their hands are partly tied by laws that treat drug addicts as criminals and not as patients. During the night, the police set up mobile checkpoints at various points around our city. They stop motorcyclists and do random urine tests. If anyone is found with drugs in their system then there is a high chance that they will be sent to the local prison for a period of 45 days. After that, they are assessed and they could be allowed to go home or, if they are unlucky, they are sent to an army boot camp. If the police found a small amount of yaba pills on that motorcyclist at the checkpoint they would then be sent to court to pay a fine if it was their first offence. If it was 15 or more yaba pills then it is a jail sentence of at least three years. It doesn’t matter if the amount of pills was only enough for personal consumption. In Thailand they automatically charge you with intent to deal. As a consequence, the majority of prisoners in Thai prisons are there for drug offences.
Prisons are not the best place for drug addicts. Prison guards are not equipped or even qualified to take care of them. The ones whose urine tested positive for drug use are left to cater for themselves through the pains of withdrawal. There is no counselling. In prisons that I have visited they are kept in separate areas. But, because of overcrowding, that might not be the case in other prisons. For the small-time dealers caught with a few pills, they are thrown into a hot pot of murderers, rapists and big time drug dealers. They too don’t receive any counselling and certainly there is no rehabilitation. However, what they do gain from their few years in prison is invaluable knowledge. To start with, they can learn from others on how not to be caught by the police. They also gain tips from the drug dealers on better and easier ways of selling. For example, they are told not to handle drugs for too long, never keep them in your home and to get other people to do the dirty work for them. Most importantly, they gain contacts.
Once that small time dealer or drug addict is out of prison, it isn’t long before he starts to deal drugs again. It is the only thing he has been trained to do. He is introduced to a local big time drug dealer and a short time later he starts to buy and sell in greater quantities than before. It doesn’t matter if he didn’t have any money when he came out of prison. He can buy on credit which is a little trick the big drug dealers use to keep them selling. And don’t think for a moment that the drug lords giving all the instructions are here on the outside. Many of them are giving instructions from inside the prison itself by using secret mobile phones which they bury in the ground. These are often smuggled in by prison guards who buy cheap second-hand phones down the market for about 500 baht and then resell to the prisoners for at least 5,000 baht each. They also don’t need to pop down to their local 7-Eleven to top up their sim card. All they have to do is phone an accomplice on the outside to buy this for them and then phone them back with the code.
The government recently announced that they will send 300,000 drug addicts for treatment this year to special drug camps. Will this actually work? I have always said that we need to start at the school level in educating the students on the dangers of drug use. Maybe use past students who were drug addicts to tell them how easy it is to become addicted. But, most schools don’t want to admit that their students have had drug problems as they want to stay a “white school”. Best to expel immediately anyone taking drugs. The other problem is that there are very few effective drug rehabilitation centers in Thailand. Most of them just give the addicts medicine to make them sick. They only do detoxification and not proper rehabilitation. The addicts sent to army camps are just given discipline and are often beaten up which just makes them more resentful.
What I am most concerned about now is that we have just entered the most dangerous period of the year for Thai students with the long summer holidays. Are they really prepared enough to stay away from drugs? With so many young drug dealers out there, the chances are high that we will see a large increase of drug addicts over the Songkran period. The chances are also high that it will be someone either you know directly or a son or daughter of a friend. In my next article, I will be giving you some extracts of interviews I have done with drug addicts and also some good tips on how to spot if your child is taking “yaba”. This will be an important read for all teachers and parents.