A poppy field in Burma (Photo: Karen News)
The Burma Army and government-backed militias are enabling a drug crisis in Kachin State, according to the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT).
“Where the Burma Army has seized former Kachin Independence Army territories, it has allowed its allies to expand control over these areas. Overturning KIA anti-drug policies which had limited poppy cultivation, these allies have promoted opium growing and drug refining, leading to an increase in drug production,” KWAT said in a new report.
The 50-page report referred to first hand interviews of drug addicts and family members, detailing the terrible cost drug abuse is having on communities.
A woman from Myitkyina was quoted in the report describing how her nephew had died.
“He started taking opium when he was 13, because of his friends. His parents were in jail on drug charges. When he needed money to buy drugs, he stole from his grandmother. He started to take No. 4 (heroin). He was using his friends’ syringes to take No. 4. Because of that he was infected with HIV, and died.”
KWAT said that opium was booming in areas of government control, in both Kachin and Shan states, and that drug use was especially widespread among miners, truck drivers and young people.
“Opium, heroin and methamphetamines are flooding from these government-controlled areas into Kachin communities, worsening existing problems of drug abuse, particularly among youth. It is estimated that about one third of students in Myitkyina and Bhamo universities are injecting drug users,” KWAT said.
Doctor Voravit Suwanvanichkij, a research associate at the Centre for Public Health and Human Rights, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and a specialist on Burma’s healthcare system, said that drug use in Burma was contributing to a rise in HIV infection rates.
Dr. Suwanvanichkij told Karen News that injection drug users were a high-risk group, but that reliable statistics on the matter are not readily available.
“In the data that we do have, the states in Burma that face the most severe epidemics of HIV/AIDS are likely Kachin and Shan states,” said Dr. Suwanvanichkij.
Burma is the world’s second largest producer of poppy after Afghanistan.
KWAT noted that four current MPs in the Shan State Assembly were leaders of government-backed militias with alleged links to the drug trade.
“The future of the Kachin people is at stake. We need urgent action to tackle the drug problem before it’s too late,” said Shirley Seng, a spokesperson for KWAT.
Source: Karen News