Illicit drug trafficking and production in Myanmar: Drivers and future policy responses

Ms Myo Myo1, A/Prof. Caitlin Hughes1

1College of Business, Government and Law, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia

Context: The Golden Triangle has long been known as a site for drug production and trafficking, particularly opium production. But the illicit drug market is undergoing a profound transformation, with the rise of synthetic drugs particularly in Northern Myanmar. Indeed, even preceding 2021, Myanmar had become one of the leading sites of methamphetamine production and trafficking with much of that trafficked to countries like Australia. But as noted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime the drivers and dynamics of the trade in Myanmar remain poorly understood. This project thus seeks to fill key gaps in knowledge into what is driving the drug trade in Myanmar. Specifically, it seeks to identify key drivers (or enablers) of the drug trade in Myanmar, including the recent rise in methamphetamine production and trafficking and to examine the efficiency of existing drug policy responses.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with key stakeholders in Myanmar, including police, ministry of social welfare, drug treatment and harm reduction providers, opium farmers and non-governmental organisations. Each interview was conducted via zoom, over the period January to June 2021.

Results: The final interviews are still being conducted. Nevertheless, the existing interviews are highlighting a number of important drivers of the expanding drug trade, including underdevelopment (i.e. lack of legitimate employment opportunities), the absence of the rule of law particularly in the context of the current coup, displacement of precursor chemicals from neighbouring China and India and the rise of new transnational organised crime groups. Reflections on the efficacy of current and future drug policy responses will also be provided.

Implications: This study will provide new empirical knowledge into the drivers of drug trafficking in Myanmar and current policy responses. It will add to existing criminological and organised crime research and inform future policy responses in Myanmar.


Myo Myo is a Masters of International Relations student, at the College of Business, Government and Law, Flinders University. She is also employed by the Myanmar Police Force, Ministry of Home Affairs. This research has been supported by an Australian Awards Scholarship.


Dec 10 2021