A potent form of crystal methamphetamine known locally as “ice” is becoming readily available and increasingly popular on the streets of the capital, officials said Wednesday.
“Before we had just heard the name of this drug, but recently we have been confiscating it,” said Lour Ramin, deputy secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs.
“The use of crystal methamphetamine drugs is rising in the region while heroin is slowing down—we are being seriously victimized by these drugs,” he said.
Moek Dara, director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Anti-Drug Department, said ice has been in Cambodia for several years, though arrests and confiscation of the drug are on the rise.
According to the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, ice is technically methamphetamine hydrochloride.
It is produced in clandestine laboratories from a range of chemicals and resembles clear, chunky crystals. Ice is also known as “glass” or “crystal.”
“People can smoke it, snort it or inject it,” said Graham Shaw, technical officer on drug abuse with the World Health Organization.
“Addiction from ice is quicker than yaba [methamphetamine’s street name]. It does irreparable damage to brain cells and after about six months of use it will start to damage your internal organs,” said Shaw, formerly of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
“The main ingredient is similar to yaba but it is much stronger and made through a different process.”
Some local drug dealers claimed this week that ice is taking hold of the illegal drug market.
“It’s taking over,” said one dealer in Phnom Penh.
A second Phnom Penh dealer explained that the low price of the drug called “toek kak” in Khmer has attracted yaba users who now frequently mix the two similar narcotics.
Shifting to crystallized forms of methamphetamine also conforms to patterns of narcotics abuse seen in neighboring countries, Shaw said.
“We find that with all countries that start with tablets, you will see ice later,” he said. “In Cambodia, it seems that ice is a culture being learned by the upper class and middle class that will be eventually adopted on a large scale by the street-if it hasn’t already.”
The increase in the availability of crystallized forms of methamphetamine may be due to a change in drug supply channels in the region, said Porn Boramy, head of the International Cooperation Department for the National Authority for Combating Drugs.
“The drug smuggling routes into Cambodia have changed,” Porn Boramy said. “They used to come in through the western parts of the country…they now come in from the northeast. Cambodia is now a transit point for shipping many kinds of drugs to other countries.”
Lour Ramin added that lack of regulation along the Mekong River has increased the severity of drug issues affecting Cambodia today.
“The main trafficking route from the north is to come down the Mekong. We cannot stop it. We can only try to prevent it,” he said.