One thing is crystal clear in China — the country has zero tolerance for its fast rising methamphetamine problem and it's smoking out the smugglers responsible for the epidemic.
Shanghai police from eastern China seized more than 2.4 tons of the drug, also known as "crystal meth" or "ice," from a lab some 900 miles away in southern Guangdong Province, authorities said Thursday.
The bust, conducted in conjunction with Guangdong Province officials, started in August after police began tracking a suspected dealer carting drugs between two locations, which eventually led to the discovery of the lab in Lufeng county last Friday, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.
Authorities arrested 28 suspects — including two syndicate heads — across three cities, and seized drugs, two pistols, and 1.51 million yuan ($240,000) in cash, according to the agency.
Guangdong has been at the center of a crackdown on meth and raw materials to make the synthetic stimulant in recent months. The southern hub has become the largest market for dealers and is home to the country's biggest population of addicts, which number some 457,000 in a province of 105 million, according to local officials. Across China, authorities estimate there are some 13 million drug users, most of them under 35, and half are suspected meth users.
In a massive operation last January, some 3,000 local police made more than 100 raids across Guangdong, snatching 3 tons of meth and 32 tons of ingredients. Authorities also nabbed nearly 200 people — including Communist party officials — in the sweep, according to the South China Morning Post.
The problem led local authorities to kickstart a six-month anti-drug campaign in October, which has so far led to the arrests of more than 60,500 drug suspects and 180,000 users and seizure of more than 11 tons of meth.
A month after the operation began, Guangdong officials seized and burned another 400 tons of meth-making materials — weighing the equivalent of 10 private jets — that could have been used to produce more than 2 tons of drugs, local media reported.
Although traffickers can find themselves facing a firing squad or be thrown in jail for life for peddling the drug, the meth market has flourished into a $82 billion annual industry in China.
The rising popularity of meth, which could soon outstrip heroin, may in part be attributed to the rise of the club scene in the country. Meth is the overwhelming drug of choice in the scene, with 96.6 percent of clubbers claiming to use it over other drugs, according to one survey conducted in 2014.
But the meth epidemic is not limited to the southern region. Late last month, Indonesian and Chinese drug agencies busted a Hong Kong drug ring for trying to smuggle 1,900 pounds of meth packed into coffee sachets that were concealed in 42 white rice sacks on a fishing boat into Jakarta.
A video later surfaced showing the suspects, who face the death penalty if found guilty of drug trafficking, being forced to burn the drugs on an incinerator while authorities looked on.
Even with the visible production of locally-made meth, Chinese authorities have pointed fingers at countries like Myanmar, Laos, and the Mekong Delta as large sources of drugs flowing into the state. There are strong indications that North Korea's meth problem may also be spilling over into its ally's borders, though Chinese authorities have remained somewhat silent on the issue.
Last year, China executed two South Korean drug dealers for attempting to smuggle drugs from the hermit kingdom to the northern Jilin province. Earlier in 2011, authorities seized $60 million worth of North Korean-made drugs.
A 2014 UN Office on Drugs and Crime report found that synthetics, including meth and ecstasy, have become the most used drugs in the world, with the highest rate of use concentrated in Asia. Almost 45 percent of all synthetic drug seizures in the region were made in China, the report found.
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