Minister to the Presidential Palace Soubanh Sritthirath and President of the Lao National Committee for Drug Control and Supervision says his country is virtually free of opium with only approximately 2,500 hectares in remote mountainous areas under cultivation, but the problem facing Laos now is the return of former addicts to opium smoking and the threat of other illicit drugs.
In Part 2 of an exclusive interview by phone from New York after his three-day visit in mid-March to Washington to meet with American officials, Laos' drug czar told VOA that there are now some 12,000 opium addicts including a large number of those who had been treated but have gone back to smoking opium again, and about 1,100 villages that had depended on opium poppy cultivation are still very poor because government assistance and development projects have not reached them due to budget constraints and their remote locations. He added that his government needs 42 million dollars more in funding so that it can continue its fight against illicit drugs and drug trafficking for the next five years.
Mr. Soubanh told VOA that there are no drug labs in Laos but with long and porous borders with its neighbors, it is difficult for his government to control and prevent drugs from crossing the borders into the country. He said the most serious drug threat facing Lao youth now is from methamphetamine and ketamine. The latter, he explained, can be mixed in drinks at bars or parties, rendering those who drink it unconscious in a few minutes.
The head of Laos' National Committee for Drug Control and Supervision said he was very happy to have an opportunity to meet and discuss counter-narcotics cooperation with US officials who expressed interest in his government's next plan to keep up its successful fight against opium poppy cultivation and illicit drug trafficking. For his part, Mr. Soubanh expressed his government's appreciation for US assistance in this area, which has been substantial. He said the United States has provided funding as well as equipments such as speed boats to use in patrolling the Mekong, training for Laos counter-narcotics teams and police as well as building treatment centers for opium addicts.
For more of Mr. Soubanh's interview, listen to our audio files.