Cocaine Smuggling in the Asia-Pacific Tripled in Less than Three Years
South American drug rings are shifting their cocaine smuggling efforts to the Asia-Pacific as their traditional Western markets become saturated, putting more in the region at risk for addiction. What systems are in place to prevent such consequences?
Cocaine seizures have tripled since 2014 in major ports around the Asia-Pacific. Newly prospering nations are being targeted due to a growing global demand for the dangerous narcotic and saturation of the US and European markets.
It is largely believed that South American drug cartels are responsible for most of the trafficking, and they are finding ever more imaginative ways to conceal drugs. Cocaine has been found sprinkled on iced donuts, packed into hollowed out-candles – 36 kilos of cocaine was even found stuffed into a horse head statue in New Zealand this July.
A 2016 report by The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found that seizures of cocaine in the Asia-Pacific region – particularly pronounced in East and South East Asia – has risen significantly in recent years. 440 kilos of cocaine were seized in Hong Kong this year, up from 140 kilos during the whole of 2014, and officials suspect the drug was headed for mainland China.
Many countries in the region do not currently have the law enforcement capacity to deal with the increase in drug supply, nor do they have enough treatment centres to accommodate the growing number of users. Effective treatment for cocaine addiction is vital if the upsurge in supply continues, which seems likely at this time.
What this Means for Australia
What this means, of course, is that with an increased supply in the region, Australia is set to see a rise in cocaine addiction as the powder becomes cheaper, higher-quality and more easily available. This is even more likely if drug enforcement efforts continue to be focused overwhelmingly on ice. Says Cesar Alvarez of ABC News, “In Latin America, the cocaine industry is undergoing what seems to be the largest power transition since the early 1990s, when the Medellin and Cali cartels fell. If Australia is determined to avoid its streets getting painted snow white, that shouldn’t be overlooked.”
The demand for cocaine in the US and European markets has significantly reduced in recent years – there has been a 50 per cent drop in the US since 2006 alone. On the contrary, the increasingly affluent Asia-Pacific region harbours a growing drug industry, with China’s illegal narcotics industry estimated to be valued at $82 billion annually.
It’s not just a growing industry that appeals to those employed in the drug trade. Cocaine is valued three times higher in China than in the US, and up to six times more in Australia according to some experts. Plus, it is not just cocaine – the Asia-Pacific region has seen a surge in methamphetamine, heroin, ecstasy, and synthetic drug users.
Fewer people in the Asia-Pacific are aware of the risks of cocaine addiction compared to other parts of the world that have long battled the problem. The United States has over 14,500 dedicated drug treatment centres that offer counselling, behavioural therapy and group meetings, but China’s compulsory detoxification centres have come under scrutiny from a number of experts.
The South American Drug Cartels Behind it All
Worldwide cocaine production is still largely limited to South American nations, particularly the states of Columbia, Peru, and Bolivia. The governments of these nations, especially Colombia’s, have experienced mass violence for decades in trying to eliminate the cartels responsible for growing and processing the coca plant.
Unfortunately, impoverished farmers who turn to coca growing as a means to make enough money to survive are often on the receiving end of the violence, with mass executions and imprisonment being commonplace.
The distribution of cocaine around the world is thought to be dominated by re-imprisoned Mexican drug kingpin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán and his Sinaloa cartel, who are thought to control 30 per cent of the world’s total cocaine supply and 90 per cent of what is smuggled into the United States.
Says Chavez, “As the Sinaloa cartel increases its footprint in Australia, having access to a greater share of cheap Colombian cocaine, it will only give the (drug rings) another reason to stretch their profit margin and try to flood our streets with the drug.”
Asia’s War on Drugs
The rise in illicit drug use has proved problematic for the region as governments introduce measures, sometimes extreme, to combat the problem. Five suspects from Hong Kong currently face the death penalty for drug charges in Shenzhen, but the cartels themselves have a huge network that is unlikely to be eliminated as people on the ground face criminal charges.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared a war on drugs to tackle the problem that has seen an average of 37 people killed every day since June 1st of this year, and Indonesia is considering following suit.
In addition to cracking down on employees within the drug industry, China has introduced a mandatory two-year stay at a drug treatment centre for the increasing number of users who fail a drug test, though these treatments usually revolve around hard work and a lack of human rights and don’t provide sufferers with the treatments they desperately need.
What does an Increase in Cocaine Smuggling Mean for the Asia-Pacific?
Despite the admitted failings of the UNODC and its war on drugs, the organisation has stated that the fight is far from over. However, despite huge crackdowns on coca plant cultivation and billions of dollars spend on resources and manpower, cocaine production in Colombia increased 44 percent in the past year.
Preventing the South American drug syndicates from supplying cocaine seems unlikely thanks to their huge trafficking network, which could be larger than Amazon, FedEx and UPS combined. Countries in the Asia-Pacific region desperately need investment to build effective treatment centres as well as spread public awareness about the dangers of narcotics and addiction.
The increased supply of cocaine will undoubtedly lead to an increase in cocaine addiction. Coke is one of the most difficult addictions to quit, and getting the proper treatment is vital to ensuring life-long abstinence.
There is already help available if you or somebody you know is battling a cocaine habit. The most effective holistic treatments are those that include behavioural counselling, group therapy and mind-body practices that can help you be successful on your road to recovery.