BANGKOK: A “dramatic” drop in opium cultivation in Myanmar underscored a regional boom in demand for illegal synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine, which many Asian countries are struggling to combat, a senior U.N. official said on Wednesday. The area under opium poppy cultivation dropped by a quarter between 2015 and 2017, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a report released on Wednesday. “The drop in opium production is welcome, but it is not a victory,” Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC’s chief in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, told Reuters. “It appears to confirm that the shift in the regional drug market to synthetic drugs is well underway, and that the opium economy is being disrupted.” China and most Southeast Asian countries have reported growing demand for methamphetamine – a highly addictive synthetic drug also known as speed, shabu and yaba – and the Philippines is waging a bloody “war on drugs” to tackle it. Meanwhile, regional demand for heroin, which is derived from opium poppies, has remained stable or decreased, with many younger drug users preferring methamphetamine, according to UNODC data. The UNODC estimated that Myanmar’s Shan and Kachin states cultivated 41,000 hectares of opium poppy in 2017, a 25 percent drop from the 54,500 hectares reported in its last survey in 2015. For the previous decade, opium cultivation had increased annually before stabilizing at high levels, according to UNODC data. The area under cultivation in Afghanistan, the world’s biggest opium producer, hit a record high of 328,000 hectares in 2017, the UNODC said last month. Myanmar’s interior minister, Kyaw Swe, said in a statement released by the UNODC that his government was “pleased to see progress” and would support programs that provide alternative livelihoods to opium-growing communities. Myanmar is the source of most of Southeast Asia’s methamphetamine, which is mostly produced in lawless border regions outside the government’s control. Published in Daily Times, December 7th 2017.