Drug Abuse in the Global Village
Drug Abuse in Asia



                        Extent of Drug Abuse

It is estimated that there are 300,000 to 500,000 drug abusers in Thailand. Heroin is the main drug of abuse, followed by opium and marijuana. Amphetamines and volatile solvents are also reported widely abused. About 45,000 new abusers are reported each year (Thailand 1993). In 1992, it was estimated that there were about 1,000 Hill tribe drug dependent abusers in four provinces (Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Sorn and Tak) (Office of the Narcotics Control Board 1992).

                       Abuser Characteristics

Drug abusers tend to be 20 to 35 years of age. Abusers of cannabis, amphetamines, heroin and tranquilizers are between 21 and 25 years of age, opium abusers tend to be older, between 21 and 60 years of age and volatile solvents abusers tend to be younger, between 15 and 19 years of age. Most abusers are men (U.N. 1985-1989).

            Further, it is reported that the abuse of amphetamines is most prevalent among truck drivers while volatile solvents abuse is most prevalent among youth. Heroin is widely abused among fishermen (Thailand 1993). According to data based on drug dependent abusers in voluntary treatment between 1986 and 1990, about 25 per cent were unemployed when treatment was sought and 70 per cent completed primary school (Dasananjali 1991).

                         Regional Variations

Heroin abuse is reported spreading in the Northern Highland area among the Hill tribes, especially among former opium abusers. This is attributed to reduced availability of opium due to effective eradication and reduced production. Heroin is the most common drug of abuse, especially in urban areas, such as Bangkok, in the central and southern regions.  Opium abuse is most prevalent in the north and northeastern regions (Office of the Narcotics Control Board 1992; Thailand 1993).


From 1987 through 1989, some decrease in opium abuse had been reported. However, injecting heroin abuse is reported to have steadily increased from 1985 until 1989.  Some increase of cannabis abuse was observed in 1985, 1987 and 1988, while some decrease was reported for 1986. Some increase in the abuse of volatile solvents has been reported for the years 1986, 1987 and 1989 (U.N. 1985-1989). An increase in the number of road accidents due abuse of amphetamines by drivers was reported (Office of the Narcotics Control Board 1990). According to a 1992 report, the main drug of abuse remained heroin, with an increase in abuse of volatile solvents and amphetamines (Office of the Narcotics Control Board 1992).

            For 1993, Thai authorities predict that pressures associated with socio-economic change, are likely to aggravate the drug abuse problem. The spread of new types of drugs with more potent effects is also foreseen (Thailand 1993).

                             Mode of Intake

Heroin is injected, opium is smoked and volatile solvents are sniffed (U.N. 1985-1989). 



A 1992 study on Drug Addiction and Crime, conducted by the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB), suggested a correlation between drug addiction and crime in Thailand (Office of the Narcotics Control Board 1992). 

            About 60 per cent of HIV infected persons are reported to be drug abusers (Dasananjali 1991).

            HIV rates ranging from 0 to 1 per cent among IDUs were found in ad hoc surveys between 1985 and 1987.  Significantly higher HIV prevalence rates (32-43 per cent) were found among opiate abusers, attending methadone treatment, in a study by Thanyarak Hospital and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration Health Department.  From-mid 1990 to mid-1991, reported HIV prevalence rates in Bangkok were around 30 per cent. Similar rates were reported in 14 provincial capitals, in other provinces in the country and among IDUs in remote Hill tribe population, according to ad hoc surveys and a 1989 national sentinel sero prevalence survey (Weniger et. al. 1991).


                           National Strategy

The Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) is the national drug control coordinating body. Supply reduction is the responsibility of the Police Department and the Ministry of Public Health and the Bangkok Metropolitan City are in charge of demand reduction (Dasananjali 1991). The national drug control strategy is part of the social development section of the National Socio-Economic Development Plan since 1977 (1992-1996) (Office of the Narcotics Control Board 1992).

      Structure of National Drug Control Organs

The central government unit responsible for liaison and coordination of national drug control policy is the Office of the Narcotics Control Board.



                           Treaty Adherence

Thailand is party to the 1961 Convention as amended by the 1972 Protocol and the 1971 Convention. The 1988 Convention has been approved by the National Special Committee for the Consideration of Treaties and was presented to the cabinet for consideration in 1991. However, examination of the Convention was postponed until after the elections. A renewed examination was expected to take place in 1992. In 1994, it was stated that after "finishing" legislation on money-laundering, Thailand was ready to ratify the 1988 Convention. Thailand has taken measures to effectively control the substances listed in Table I and II of the 1988 Convention.

  Measures Taken with Respect to Drug Control

Recently enacted laws and regulations:
None reported.

Licensing system for manufacture, trade and distribution:
There is a government-controlled licensing system for both narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances were not reported being manufactured in Thailand in 1991.

Control system:
(i) Prescription requirement: There is a prescription requirement for supply or dispensation of preparations containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
(ii) Warnings on packages: The law requires warnings on packages or accompanying leaflet information to safeguard the users of preparations containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
(iii) Control of non-treaty substances, if any: In 1991, parapine, zopiclone and zolpiden were classified as psychotropic substances.
(iv) Other administrative measures: Since 1991, psychotropic substances are subject to import authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.

                            Social Measures

Penal sanctions related to social measures: In 1991, courts applied measures of treatment, education, after-care, rehabilitation or social reintegration for a drug-related offence as an alternative to conviction or punishment.

Other social measures: None reported.



                          Primary Prevention

Drug abuse prevention programmes targeted several populations at risk, such as youth in and out of school, employees in their work place, community groups and other specific groups.  Programmes are closely coordinated between government and non-government agencies. Six types of programmes are reported: information dissemination; prevention in the work place; attempt to solve amphetamine abuse problems; training of personnel involved in the fight against drugs; drug prevention campaigns; and efforts to prevent the spreading of volatile solvents abuse (Thailand 1993).

            In 1989, a National AIDS Committee (NAC) was created as a policy making body. Headed by the Minister of Public Health, the committee is composed of senior officials from various ministries, as well as members of public, private and (NGOs). In the same year, a three year "Programme Plan for the Prevention and Control of AIDS" was established, having health education to reduce HIV infection among IDUs and to minimize the risk of HIV transmission to other populations as its main objectives (Office of the Narcotics Control Board 1992).

            A national network of drug prevention instructors was trained to convey drug prevention information to the public.  Among the trainees are educators, woman and community leaders, youth volunteers and workers in the public transportation. The network extends its prevention efforts to provincial and municipal level as well (Thailand 1993).

            A special volatile solvents prevention project targeted students in 427 schools in Bangkok area, in 1993. For this purpose, teachers and administrators were trained. An expansion of the project to cover schools throughout the country was planned (Thailand 1993).

            Every year Thailand arranges various activities in commemorating the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Traffic (Thailand 1993).

            The private sector contributes to drug prevention in the country. In 1992, the Smiling Sun Project, a 5 year project aiming at creating public awareness relating to the harmful effects of drug abuse. The project consists of programmes such as information dissemination, sport activities, mobilization of in-school and community groups, drugs exhibition and the establishment of a Smiling Sun Fund to support drug prevention activities (Thailand 1993).

                 Treatment and Rehabilitation

In 1993, there were 187 government and non-government treatment centres in Thailand. About 32,880 drug abusers were treated in 1991. Treatment in residential and community based programmes are based on voluntary participation. However, the correctional system provides compulsory treatment services to drug dependent abusers. National plans intend to extend treatment services to all provinces and to develop the full capability of existing rehabilitation centres by the year 1995 (Thailand 1993).



     Arrests, Convictions and Types of Offenses

In 1990, 54,100 Thai citizens and 740 foreigners were arrested for drug related offenses. In 1991, arrests increased to 60,000 and 800, respectively (UNDCP 1991). Arrests increased in 1992 also: 86,632 offenders were arrested, 52 per cent due to drug possession, 39 per cent due to drug consumption and about 8 per cent were repeated offenders (Office of the Narcotics Control Board 1992).

            Most drug offenses were committed in Bangkok Metropolitan area (43%), followed by the central region (24%), the north-east (12%), the north (11%) and the south (10%).  A decrease in drug offenses in Bangkok Metropolitan area and an increase in the central region were reported (Office of the Narcotics Control Board 1992).


In 1992, about 13,025 kg of cannabis herb, 113,276 kg of cannabis plants, 221 kg of cannabis seeds, 996 kg of heroin, 0.410 kg of morphine, 2,625.8 kg of poppy seeds, 1,279.9 kg of opium (raw and prepared) and 569 kg of stimulants were seized.

            During the year 1991/1992, about 5,400 acres of cultivated opium poppy were eradicated. In 1990, authorities destroyed 3 heroin refineries in the North and 1 refinery in the South and confiscated narcotic drugs, chemicals and equipment.  During 1992, one deserted heroin refinery was discovered (Office of the Narcotics Control Board 1992). Temporary heroin refineries were reported along the Myanmar-Thai border (Thailand 1993).

            Cannabis eradication has been continuously and successfully carried out since 1985.  In 1990, a cannabis eradication programme was launched in 25 provinces resulting in the destruction of 295.7 tons of marihuana plants (Office of the Narcotics Control Board 1990).

                      Supply Source of Drugs

The opium poppy has been cultivated in Thailand by Northern Hill tribes for their own consumption.  A few decades ago, a commercialization of opium crops occurred, making the Golden Triangle one of the most significant supply sources. However, after 10 years of crops replacement and development programmes, opium poppy cultivation has been reduced to satisfy only local consumption. According to a 1991/92 survey, opium poppy was cultivated in about 7,541.6 acres compared to 9,318 acres in 1990/91 (Thailand 1993).

            Cannabis is cultivated in the North Eastern part of Thailand, especially in the Nakhon Panom, Sakon Nakhon and Mukdahan provinces.  It is also grown in other parts of the country as well as in neighboring countries in the North East, where it is planted in between other plants, to prevent detection (Office of the Narcotics Control Board 1992; Thailand 1993).

            Heroin and cannabis are smuggled from the Golden Triangle and the North East for domestic consumption and for trafficking to other countries. The air route from Bangkok airport is widely used for trafficking, in addition to land and sea routes. The reported couriers are Africans and Hong Kong Chinese traffickers (Office of the Narcotics Control Board 1990).


                       References and Notes

U.N. 1985-1989. Replies to the UNDCP's annual reports questionnaires for the years 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989.

Dasananjali, T. (1991), National Drug Prevention and Control Strategy: Thailand. Bangkok, mimeo.

Office of the Narcotics Control Board (1990), Thailand Narcotics Annual Report 1990. Bangkok, Office of the Prime Minister.

Office of the Narcotics Control Board (1992),  Thailand Narcotics Annual Report 1992.  Bangkok, Office of the Prime Minister.

Thailand, Government of (1992), "Country Report Thailand" paper presented at the Sub-Regional Workshop on the Social and Economic Implications of HIV/AIDS.  Kunming, China, 22-26 September 1992.

Thailand, Government of (1993),  "Thailand Country Paper" prepared for the Senior Officials Meeting on Strengthening of the Regional Network Focal Points on Drug Abuse Demand Reduction. Bangkok, Thailand, 1-4 February 1993.

UNDCP (1991), Country Profile Thailand, Vienna, mimeo.

Weniger et al. (1991),  "The epidemiology of HIV Infection and AIDS in Thailand". AIDS, 1991 vol. 5 (suppl 2):S71-S85.


** 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  1988-91, Statements made at the Eighteenth Meeting of HONLEA, Asia and the Pacific, and at the thirty-seventh session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.