Drug Epidemic in North Korea


Andrew Obergh

Just when you thought nothing worse could happen to North Korea, a drug epidemic has broken out. It is reported that about two-thirds of North Koreans have used methamphetamine, and 40%-50% are seriously addicted to it. Methamphetamine is more commonly known as crystal meth, or simply “ice”. Here in America, hard drugs are viewed as something bad and illegal, something off a TV show, but in North Korea, crystal meth is a common sight.

In the late 90’s North Korea was known for their widespread illegal export of heroin. Methamphetamine only became popular after many of the poppy fields, the plant used to make heroin,had dried up. North Korea’s mountainous landscape is perfect for illegally cooking crystal meth, because it is much less likely you will get noticed by the authorities in such a rural setting. The materials needed to produce methamphetamine are also relatively easy to come by. The production of methamphetamine is an appealing occupation for the uneducated and unemployed, as well as out of work scientists and technicians, because they are now able to support their families. A kilo of crystal meth costs about ten times a kilo of rice in North Korea; around $15, which is a large sum of money for someone living in poverty.

Professor Kim Seok Hyang, the co-author of a report in The North Korean Review stated that “that the drug was often used as a palliative in place of hard-to-obtain prescription medicine.” The problem with using methamphetamines in place of prescription medicine is that once you get hooked on it, it is near impossible to get off of it without professional help. North Korean cancer patients are known to use crystal meth as their only remedy to fight their sickness. A neglected population is going to see little to no help from the Communist government, run by a man of questionable sanity named Kim Jong-un. Some parents have even been reported in giving the drug to their children, to help with focus, unbeknownst of the consequences.
Although journalists are banned from entering the country, several have been able to see the underbelly of North Korea, aside from the facade put on by the government, posing as tourists. Ian Birrell, a journalist from the U.K. describes the difference between China and North Korea on the border as “striking”. China is a developing nation with skyscrapers and industry, while North Korea is barren with scattered military watchtowers. People there are sheltered and constantly monitored by the military. Birrell reported that one North Korean “played the electric guitar, but had never heard of the Beatles, hip-hop, or even South Korean superstar Psy.”

It is said that people can order the hard drug at restaurants, just as you would order dinner at Chili’s. Another major problem with this epidemic, is that the already impoverished North Koreans now spend even more money on drugs, on top of being uneducated and neglected. Most are unaware of the side effects and only use the drug because it is a temporary pain reliever. If the government is reluctant to even feed it’s own people, then their drug addictions are likely to ignored. With all of these problems North Korea has, it should teach us that most of our problems are minor. Next time you crack the screen on your iPhone, or the cafeteria is out of curly fries, remember how hard other people in the world may have it.