Dangerous drug ‘ice’ brings new peril

Yaba and crystal methFile photo

Amid the law enforcement agencies’ struggle to prevent the smuggling of yaba from Myanmar and sale of the drug in the country, methamphetamine, also known as ice or crystal meth which is more dangerous than yaba tablet, has become a new concern.

According to law enforcement officials, since there is a huge demand of ice in Bangladesh, yaba traders mainly smuggle this drug from Myanmar.

Department of Narcotics Control said 66 kg of crystal meth was seized across the country in the first four months of 2023 even though this drug was not that familiar at the beginning of 2019. There have been a rising number of crystal meth consumers in divisional towns, including Dhaka and Chattogram and district towns. At first, drug peddles brought ice as an experiment’, but yaba traders are spending huge money for crystal meth as sale of ice brings more profit.

Physicians said consumption of crystal meth causes many problems including insomnia, memory loss and brain loss, and consumption of ice for a long time also cause various physical and mental problems including weight loss, kidney and heart problems, depression and stroke.

The Department of Narcotics Control said the trend in seizure of ice by law enforcement agency over the last four months shows huge amount of crystal meth has been entering the country. Nine of the consignments seized over the past four months weighted over 1kg each and most of these consignments were seized along Myanmar border from Teknaf and Ukhiya of Cox's Bazar district.

Law enforcement agencies seized 65 grams of crystal meth only in 2020 while 36.798 kg in 2021 and 113.331 kg in 2022.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), only 10 per cent of crystal meth that enters in market is recovered.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, DNC’s Forensic Lab chief chemical examiner Dulal Krishna Saha said demand of crystal meth has increased in the country because ice contains 96 per cent of methamphetamine while yaba has 10-15 per cent of methamphetamine only. Consumption of a little amount of crystal meth creates both physical and mental reaction and that is why yaba addicts are getting interested in crystal meth.

A deputy director of DNC’s Dhaka region office said a gram of ice is sold at Tk 10,000-12,000 in Dhaka and ice is more popular among drug addicts from rich families. Besides, yaba addicts are taking crystal meth now.

DNC officials arrested drug trader Chanda Roy in possession of 500 grams of crystal meth from capital’s Mohakhali in November 2022. Police also arrested him along with crystal meth in 2020. According to DNC officials, Chanda is the ringleader of drug smuggling gang in Dhaka and police arrested more than 10 members of this gang in the last one an half years. The gang supplied ice to the house of the affluent families. Ringleader Chandan is now behind bars.

The National Institute of Mental Health conducted a survey from July 2017 to June 2018 to estimate the number of drug addicts in the country. According to the survey, there are 3.6 million drug addicts in the country. Though the DNC conducted no such survey, the agency estimates the number of drug addicts in the country exceeds 7 million.

Crystal meth entering via Teknaf border

Sources of to law enforcement agencies said yaba and crystal meth enter the country from Myanmar via same route.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, an official of DNC’s Cox’s Bazar office said 90 per cent of crystal ice is entering the country from Myanmar via waterways of Naf river. Most of the large consignments in the last one and a half year were seized from Teknaf border. Crystal meth is entering the country via at least 15 water and remote hill routes including Bandarban. Drug smugglers who have been peddling yaba for long are found to have involvement with ice consignments. These drug smugglers also have ties to armed Rohingya groups.

According to this official, certain Nabi, a Rohingya man who live in a remote island on the other side of Naf river in Rakhain state of Myanmar, controls the narcotics gangs that peddle drug via Teknaf area. Nabi maintain contact with several Rohingya groups in Teknaf and Ukhiya refugee camps.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, several officials of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) said smugglers who previously brought yaba are now bringing crystal meth. A ring led by Nabi is smuggling the largest consignments via Teknaf border. The BGB declared a bounty of Tk 1 million to detain Nabi either alive or dead.

BGB Teknaf-2 commander Lieutenant Colonel Mohiuddin Ahmed told Prothom Alo the country has witnessed a rising trend in ice smuggling. Now yaba is arriving less than before and yaba smuggling gangs are active in smuggling crystal meth, he observed.

Large consignments of ice have been seized in Teknaf border recently as BGB remains active, he added.

Rapid Acton Battalion (RAB) arrested four people in possession of 24.2 kg of ice from Shafiullah Kata area of Ukhia’s Palongkhali. Later, RAB at a press conference said Dhaka was the destination of this drug. Drug peddlers planned to store the consignment, which came from Myanmar, at Rohingya refugee camp and then supply it to the ring leaders in Dhaka in four phases.

RAB legal and media wing director Commander Khandaker Al Moin said at a press conference in Cox’s Bazar that drug peddlers are bringing ice or crystal meth from neighbouring county as consumption of this drug have increased recently. One of the four people arrested with ice consignment fron Ukhia was Alauddin, who was police constable and he was terminated from his job after being caught in possession of drug in 2027, he added.

Unconventional narcotics also available

DNC officials said phensedyl was the dominant narcotic in the country in the beginning of 1980s. This drug entered the country from India via border areas. Scenario changed over the last decade. Yaba spread widely in the country instead of phensedyl, and now ice is coming.

Recently, unconventional drugs have also been seized in the country. It includes phenethylamine that looks like cocaine, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), DMT (dimethyltryptamine) and magic mushrooms (psilocybin mushroom), khat, a psychotropic leaf that grows in Ethiopia, kush (a species of marijuana tree), adderall, ecstasy or molly, hemp and fentanyl.

All of them are synthetic drug except khat, kush and hemp. The main ingredient of yaba is amphetamine, which is also the prime ingredient of adderall, ecstasy and molly. The main ingredient of fentanyl is opium. These narcotics have arrived in the country over the past three years in various ways. Drug consignment sometimes arrives through courier services; sometimes air passengers bring it.

Narcotic traders mainly target to ‘capture the market’ in Dhaka. Dhaka Metropolitan Police additional commissioner (crime and operations) Khandakar Mohid Uddin told Prothom Alo that drug dealer usually try to target Dhaka because a huge number of people live here. But police remain vigilant to prevent the entry of ice and other narcotics to Dhaka, he added.

Law enforcement agencies began an all-out operation with a slogan “Let’s go to fight against narcotics” on 4 June 2018. As many as 358 drug dealers were killed in reported ‘crossfires’ in a year since the operation began. Of them, 169 were killed in alleged gunfights with police, 106 in "gunfights" with RAB and 12 were killed in "gunfight" with BGB while 71 drug dealers were killed in infightings among themselves, according to law enforcement agencies. This operation left 95 people dead in Cox’s bazar alone.

However, smuggling of yaba did not fell even after the all-out operation of the law enforcement agencies. According to the DNC, 53.05 million yaba tablets were seized in 2018 while 45.87 million yaba tablets in 2022 and nearly 8.9 million yaba tablets were recovered in the first three of 2023.

Non-cooperation of Myanmar, Bangladesh in risk

According to the world drug report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Myanmar, one of the countries comprising the Golden Triangle, is manufacturing crystal meth targeting the market in Bangladesh, Laos, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand of the South-East Asia. Myanmar is also trying to create the market of crystal meth in Japan and Australia.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, DNC director (operations and intelligence) Tanvir Mamtaj said everyone is concerned about the rising arrivals of crystal meth in the country. An action plan is being formulated on how to prevent it. The main problem is the stance of Myanmar is not cooperative. Bangladesh has been seeking Myanmar’s cooperation from time to time, but the country is not helping. Besides, narcotic gangs have direct links to Rohingyas and drug is arriving in the country through them, which poses risk to Bangladesh, he added.

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna