In addition to its manifold other problems, North Korea has a growing drug problem, with an estimated 40 to 50 percent of the population in the country’s far north “seriously addicted” to crystal meth.
The figures, quoted in The Wall Street Journal, come from the scholarly journal North Korea Review, edited by academics in South Korea and the United States. The Review insists that North Korea is experiencing a “drug epidemic.”
If it’s true, we’re unlikely to hear about it from the North Korean government, which, except in those periodic episodes where its population is in danger of starving to death, insists that all is well in the earthly paradise created by three generations of the Kim family.
However, the South Korean government, which can be relied on in these matters, says there is a high rate of drug dependency and abuse, particularly with prescription sleeping medication, among North Korean defectors.
The Journal says the Review story is the first attempt “to put a number on how widespread the use of crystal meth has become.”
The meth epidemic, if that’s what it truly is, would be another example of an egregious North Korean agricultural plot gone slightly awry.
According to the Journal, throughout the 1990s the regime of Kim Jong Il encouraged the growth of opium poppies for black-market sale to foreign countries, particularly China, for hard currency. Inevitably, opium use began to spread among the North Korean population.
But the opium crop, like much else of North Korean agriculture, was wiped out by the droughts of the mid-2000s. Somehow, crystal meth became the go-to drug for generating hard currency.
The export-level production of crystal meth would suggest some government involvement simply because the chemicals involved — ephedrine/pseudoephedrine, phosphorus and iodine — are not readily available to the average impoverished North Korean.
That the Chinese would be party to the sale of crystal meth, or any illicit narcotic, by a foreign power is puzzling because the Opium Wars of the mid-19th century are a sensitive chapter of Chinese history. The British fought two wars to force open the Chinese market to opium grown by British companies in India.
In any case, North Korean foreign policy is nutty enough without having to deal with people who are either on a crystal meth high or coming down hard from one.
Dale McFeatters writes for the Scripps Howard News Service.