Report: North Koreans Give Each Other Crystal Meth for Lunar New Year

The Associated Press
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

The Chinese holiday of Lunar New Year is widely observed in both Koreas, albeit in very different ways. For example, North Koreans are reportedly giving each other crystal meth and other controlled substances as gifts to ring in the Year of the Pig.

According to Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Friday, South Koreans prefer to shower each other with New Year gifts of food including fruit and cans of Spam.

Yes, Spam. South Koreans love Spam. It is considered a symbol of high status, one of the finest gifts that can be given for Lunar New Year, which is known as “Chuseok” in Korean. Stew made with Spam is a popular item on restaurant menus. This is how Spam is advertised in South Korea:

Trapped in a starvation-prone communist economy, the North Koreans are unable to partake of the joys of Spam, so they make do with crystal meth or “ice”:

“Ice has become a best-selling holiday gift item,” said a source from North Hamgyong province in an interview with RFA’s Korean Service.

“Drug dealers don’t have enough supply for their buyers,” the source said.

“The bigger problem is that most of the buyers are young people, even those still in middle school,” the source said.

“In the past, ice users would try to be discreet, not wanting others to know that they were buying, but these days nobody seems to care,” said the source.

“They usually buy ice to snort together during holidays,” said the source, adding, “They want to forget their harsh reality and enjoy themselves.”

“Since the mid-2000s, drugs have become commonplace and the people now think that the holidays are not a joyful time if there are no drugs for them to enjoy,” said the source.

“Social stigmas surrounding drug use [have disappeared], so people now feel that something big is missing if they don’t have ice or opium prepared as a holiday gift,” the source said.

RFA’s sources explained that meth and opium remain illegal in North Korea and dealers can be executed if caught, but there is so much money in the drug trade they are willing to take the risk, and the cultural stigma against snorting drugs has almost completely disappeared everywhere from Pyongyang to the hinterlands. Defectors say it is “offered up as casually as a cup of tea.”

North Korean construction managers reportedly slip a little ice to their workers now and then to make them work harder. One side effect of the drug that proves very useful to the Communist government is that it alleviates hunger pangs. Many North Koreans use meth as a cold remedy.

“As efforts to combat the widespread manufacture of ice in North Korea have stepped up though, some North Koreans have set up shop in China and have begun smuggling it over the border,” RFA added. “A few of these entrepreneurs have even realized the market potential for the drug within China itself, foregoing smuggling altogether.”

According to U.S. officials who tested some product in 2013, North Korean crystal meth is often much higher in quality than the drugs consumed by American addicts. Although the Communist regime executes smugglers and illicit dealers, it raises a good deal of hard currency by producing meth in factories and selling it to other countries, although production has been scaled back since its peak in the mid-2000s.

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