Asia’s drug problem is ravaging communities at an alarming rate, but in the nation of Myanmar, the drug addiction epidemic has become so pervasive that shopkeepers give customers syringes as change when they do not have currency.
In “Silent Offensive,” a stunning report by the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand–a women’s group covering the border region between Thailand and Myanmar–drug addicts and their families tell stories of the horrific lengths to which heroin addicts will go to feed their addiction, and just how pervasive heroin is in certain communities. As the Global Post notes, a customer in some areas of the Kachin border state will receive syringes as change in stores. Previously, store owners would also dispense candy or cigarettes instead of money, as customers perceived these to be more valuable than actual Burmese money. The report notes that, in addition to syringes, “gas stations also make change using bottles of sterile water, which addicts draw into syringes to turn powdered heroin into an injectable liquid.”
The Global Post estimates that 80% of young people in Kachin are drug addicts. In its capital, Myitkyina, “needles are strewn in the fields, on the streets and on the local university’s campus. In the internet cafes, patrons are warned not to shoot up while checking email.”
In an extensive report by Patrick Winn, the Global Post reports that the problem is particularly acute in the mountains of Kachin, in large part because police presence is minimal in the mostly Christian area, especially compared to the totalitarian displays in the Buddhist center of the country. The divide has led many to accuse the government of deliberately allowing heroin to spread like wildfire, incapacitating the region’s youth to prevent an uprising.
The words “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” flow freely in Winn’s article, as those who oppose drug use in the region and have lost friends and family to heroin suspect the government’s motives for taking a passive role in policing the region. “It’s an ethnic cleansing policy. … This drug is being used as a weapon,” says one Kachin drug researcher working at Kansas State University. A student at Myitkyina University, who single-handedly launched an anti-heroin offensive at the capital school, condemns the government for “a form of genocide,” stating, “They can fight us outright and waste money and soldiers’ lives, or they can let drugs destroy us at our core, our education system, for free.”