Drug Abuse in the Global Village
Drug Abuse in Asia



                        Extent of Drug Abuse

Methamphetamine, locally called "ice", is reported the most abused drug in the Republic of Korea followed by cannabis. Opium and cocaine are reported abused but to a limited extent (HONLEA 1993). Volatile solvents (toluene, butane gas) are reported to be frequently abused since the early 1980s (U.N. 1992). Heroin abuse, previously non-existent, is reported for the first time in 1992, when several heroin abuse cases were detected (HONLEA 1993).

            Drug abusers are included in a registry by notification of prosecutors or medical doctors. In 1992, there were a reported 5,118 registered drug abusers, of which 88 were new cases. Out of the total, 479 persons were reported registered as methamphetamine abusers, 634 as cannabis abusers, 10 as abusers of opiates, cocaine and/or heroin, and 3,995 as volatile solvent abusers (U.N. 1992).

                       Abuser Characteristics

The majority of drug abusers in the Republic of Korea are males (89 per cent of the total registered drug abusers undergoing treatment in 1992) (U.N. 1992).

            Among the registered drug abusers in 1992, methamphetamine abuse is reported most prevalent in the 30-39 year old age group and cannabis in the 20-29 age range. Opiates and cocaine abuse is more common in the above 50 age group. Volatile solvent abuse is found mainly among young people between 15 and 20 years of age (U.N. 1992).

            Unemployed persons and those in the entertainment business are reported to make up the majority of drug abusers (U.N. 1992).


                         Regional Variations

Methamphetamine abuse which was reported to have been mainly found in the southern part of the country (Pusan City) in the past, has extended to the whole country (U.N. 1992). Cannabis and methamphetamine abuse is reported higher in urban areas (U.N. 1989).


In 1989 and 1990, most of the clandestine manufacturers of methamphetamine were reported to have been apprehended as a result of active drug control measures. Subsequently, due to the limited supply and high price of this drug, the number of offences related to methamphetamine were reported to have sharply decreased in 1991. However, increased imports of cheaper methamphetamine resulting in a re-emerging problem of methamphetamine abuse are reported for 1993 (HONLEA 1993).

            The shortage and high price of methamphetamine is reported to have resulted in an increase in cannabis abuse.  There are also reported concerns over a possible increase in cocaine abuse, in view of the similar effects of cocaine and methamphetamine. Heroin, which had until recently only been found in transit through the Republic of Korea, is reported to be increasingly abused. A new trend in raw opium entering the Republic of Korea from China is reported for 1993 (HONLEA 1993).

                             Mode of intake

Methamphetamine is reported injected and/or taken orally. In 1992, the use of disposable needles and syringes for its administration is reported as a new development. Opium is reported injected, cannabis smoked, and volatile solvents sniffed (U.N. 1992). No information regarding the mode of intake of heroin or cocaine is reported.



The governmental cost of treatment of a drug addict is reported budgeted at US$ 40 a day in 1992 (U.N. 1992).



                           National Strategy

A National Anti-Drug Coordinating Committee was established to enhance coordination of drug control activities within the Government. The Republic of Korea's national strategy against drug abuse places emphasis on measures to prevent and suppress the demand for drugs as well as to improve treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts (CND 1992).



                           Treaty adherence

The Republic of Korea is Party to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as amended by the 1972 Protocol and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances.



                          Primary Prevention

In 1992, the Korean Anti-Drug Campaign Centre was established by the Government and is responsible for all drug preventive and educational activities targeted at the general population. Lack of funds and expertise in the field of prevention are reported main difficulties in carrying out prevention programmes (U.N. 1992).

            Drug prevention activities are carried out in secondary schools (a reported 50 per cent are enrolled). Special educational programmes regarding the hazards of drug abuse have been provided to teachers of middle and high schools (U.N. 1992).

            A mass media anti-drug campaign using posters, leaflets, videos, films, lectures etc. was carried out in 1992. Anti-drug abuse lectures have been organized specifically targeted at youth groups, entertainment workers and army personnel (U.N. 1992).

                 Treatment and Rehabilitation

Treatment is provided free of charge in 15 general and 7 psychiatric hospitals. A specialized treatment and rehabilitation centre with 200 beds is reported under construction. However, expert knowledge in the field of treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts is reported urgently needed to determine an appropriate treatment and rehabilitation programme for this new centre. In 1992, treatment of drug abusers is reported to consist of detoxification and drug free counselling (U.N. 1992).

             In 1992, a total of 76 addicts were treated in the general hospitals (69 males, 7 females) and 12 in psychiatric hospitals (10 males, 2 females). All patients are reported to have been treated for methamphetamine addiction. The average rate of relapse one year after leaving treatment is reported to be 100 per cent (U.N. 1992).



      Arrests, Convictions and types of Offences

In 1991, a total of 3,133 persons were arrested for drug related offences of which 2,134 were convicted. Most arrests (1,157) related to stimulants (methamphetamine) followed by cannabis (1,138), other opiates (792), opium (30), heroin (7), LSD (5) and cocaine (4). Of the 2,134 persons convicted, 80 per cent were males and 72.5 per cent aged between 20 and 29 years old. A large number (682) were unemployed and 192 were medical or paramedical professionals (U.N. 1991).


Reported drugs seized in the Republic of Korea in 1991 are cannabis (49 kg herb, 6,369 plants), cocaine (140 grams), heroin (3.190 kg), opium (15,394 plants/capsules, 170 grams poppy seeds, 6.046 kg raw opium), LSD (420 units) and stimulants (3.750 kg) (U.N. 1991).

            As a result of strengthened anti-drug activities, seizures of methamphetamine have increased from 2.2 kg in the first half of 1991 to a record 26.6 kg during the same period in 1993. Cannabis seizures have increased by 137 per cent from 1991 to 1992 when they reached approximately 67.5 kg. Seizures of heroin have increased in recent years with the largest in December 1992 of 22.3 kg destined for the United States. The first seizure of cocaine was made in 1989 (HONLEA 1993).

                      Supply Source of Drugs

Methamphetamine abused in the Republic of Korea is mostly of local illicit manufacture. However, increased enforcement measures resulting in the dismantling of most of the illicit laboratories has resulted in the emergence of foreign manufactured methamphetamine on the market, mainly of Taiwanese origin. Cannabis is reported clandestinely cultivated in the Republic of Korea (HONLEA 1993). Seized raw opium originates mainly from China (95 per cent in 1991) (U.N. 1991). Opium poppy is cultivated in remote areas to be used mainly as first aid medicine and for veterinary purposes (HONLEA 1993). Heroin seized in 1991 originated from Thailand and cocaine from the United States (U.N. 1991).


                       References and Notes

** The Legal, Administrative and Other Action Taken to Implement the International Drug Control Treaties section was prepared by the Secretariat of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs based on Annual Reports Questionnaires for the years .... (not available by January 15th 1994).

HONLEA 1993. Report of the Republic of Korea to the Eighteenth Meeting of Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies (HONLEA), Asia and the Pacific. Seoul 13-17 September 1993.

U.N. 1989,1991,1992. Replies to the UNDCP Annual Reports Questionnaires for the years 1989, 1991 and 1992.

CND 1992. Statement of the Republic of Korea's Delegation to the 35th Session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs. 7 April 1992.