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  • Writer's pictureDahlia Foundation

‘Cheaper than beer’: Laos meth prices plummet as Myanmar chaos fuels trade

Vientiane, Laos – Keo remembers the day he consumed so much yaba that he “lost his mind.”

The 37-year-old from Laos took more of the drug – a potent combination of methamphetamine and caffeine – than he had ever done before.

“I took 10 pills and I was totally lost. I didn’t recognise my family, I didn’t even recognise my children,” the father of two told Al Jazeera at the Transformation Center, a drug rehab facility 25km (16 miles) outside the Lao capital Vientiane, where he is receiving treatment.

“I couldn’t sleep at all. I didn’t drink, I didn’t eat. I felt powerful.”

Drug-free for just four days, Keo cut a frail and subdued figure as he explained that yaba, which means “crazy medicine” in Thai, helps him “escape all the thoughts”.

He said it was his family who made him seek help. A yaba user for 17 years, he said the Southeast Asian country’s drug landscape has transformed in that time.

“When I started, drugs were not this common,” he said. “Now there’s more and more; it’s everywhere now, even in Vientiane.”

The growing availability of methamphetamine in Laos, as witnessed by drug users like Keo, is part of a nationwide surge in supply that has today reached “unprecedented” levels, United Nations experts told Al Jazeera.

Part of the problem is neighbouring Myanmar, where the 2021 coup has created a violent conflict and a vacuum in law and order that has allowed drug syndicates to thrive.

In Laos, the poorly-resourced police are facing a deluge of narcotics as the country has become a vital trafficking corridor in Asia’s drug trade. The surge has pushed prices down to record lows, with front-line workers saying pills are now being sold for as little as $0.24 cents each –cheaper than most basic necessities like food and water and making the drug affordable to all in one of Asia’s poorest countries.

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