In the midst of a severe food shortage and the never-ending standoff with South Korea, North Korea is reportedly turning to drug smuggling as a means of filling government coffers.
This is hardly a new phenomenon for the Hermit Nation. A new report from the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, “Illicit: North Korea’s Evolving Operations to Earn Hard Currency,” claims that the country has been engaged in smuggling since the 1970s. Government officials during that time were directly responsible for trafficking drugs and counterfeit cigarettes, but turns out that top leaders in North Korea have also recently had a hand in drug trafficking. In 2004, for example, several high-ranking officials were caught smuggling 150,000 sedative pills into Egypt.
These days, much of the drug trade in North Korea is done via underground markets, as locals desperate for food and money use the country’s heavy international trade restrictions to their advantage. But because access to healthcare is scarce, many natives will also use these potent substances as a cure for various ailments.
This has also led to a reported epidemic of drug addiction throughout the country. A study published in North Korea Review estimated that “at least 40 to 50 percent [of residents] are severely addicted [to crystal meth]," while also indicating that the government itself was directly responsible for some of the meth production. The website DailyNK has also reported that North Koreans are now getting hooked on Amidon, a painkiller known in the west as methadone. A source told the publication that it’s used as a relief from “fatigue” due to “undergoing forced labor” and “secretly given as a gift on holidays.”
With the oil boom in the Bakken Shale fields of Western North Dakota bringing in huge money to small communities, local police are now struggling to control a rapidly expanding drug trade.
In Watford City, police calls for service have multiplied by 100 in the last five years, while several reports have indicated heroin being trafficked on isolated Indian reservations. Federal prosecutions in the Western half of North Dakota have also tripled in recent years, from 126 in 2009 to 336 last year. Recognizing the growing problems, the feds are now desperately trying to increase and strengthen local police and drug task forces.
"We're battling our butts off to stay ahead of this,” said U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon. "Our concern is that this is an open market and as people start to compete, the violence will increase...There's nothing less at stake here than our way of life."
North Dakota battled a homegrown meth epidemic several years ago, but these days the meth is coming in from Mexico. It’s also being sold in greater quantities at higher costs. Meth seizures in Ward County, roughly two hours away from the oil fields, jumped from $63,200 in 2012 to $404,600 last year. A gram of meth that might cost $120 in big cities will cost $200 in more rural areas. Heroin has also been introduced into the drug trade around the oil fields, while Bismarck ATF agent Derek Hill noted that “we’re seeing a lot more armed drug traffickers.”
Local courts are also noticing that many of the people being arrested for drug-related crimes aren’t from North Dakota. The Bakken Formation extends into nearby Montana, where two members of the Sinaloa Cartel were found and arrested. And with oil expected to flow in the Bakken for at least another generation, many local officials have expressed concern that the drug trade will dominate their communities.
"I pretty much knew most of the defendants [before]. I knew their parents, their kids, their grandparents, their next-door neighbors. Now I can go weeks and see people I've never seen before,” said Judge David Nelson. “It's amazing how many people are arrested within days of getting here."
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Investigators from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) discovered that 30 percent of alcoholic beverages have inaccurate liquor content labels.
In a February 10 survey compiled by the TTB, alcohol content has been dramatically understated in many of the cases, placing consumers at significant risk. While most alcoholic beverages had accurate labels, the transgressors not only had more alcohol than stated, but even exceeded the maximum amount of proof allowed.
The TTB’s Alcohol Beverage Sampling Program is conducted at random every year on alcohol products available across the country. The latest 2013 survey sampled 275 distilled spirits, 239 malt beverages, and 154 wines. A total of 190 products were found to be non-compliant, with 80 of the non-compliant products being distilled spirits with the highest alcohol content. Although the TTB did uncover 15 distilled spirits with less alcohol than claimed on the label, over 50 contained more alcohol than expected.
The bartending trade publication, The Spirits Business, has said that the inaccurate labels are a significant risk to the public. “They pose a threat to consumers who are unaware of how much alcohol they are drinking.”
For social drinkers, they may be drinking a lot more than they intended, placing them at obvious risk. This particularly is true for social drinkers outside their homes at bars, restaurants, parties, and the like. If an 80 proof (40 percent) shot of rum turns out to be 100 proof (50 percent), casual drinkers easily could be pushed over the legal driving threshold of 0.08 blood alcohol concentration. Considering the past national track record of drunk driving tragedies, innocent lives could be endangered.
According to the TTB, “their mission to protect the public includes ensuring that labels on alcohol beverages contain adequate descriptive information and are not likely to mislead consumers.” The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau states it will raise awareness of the problem and develop educational tools to assist distillers “with their gauging skills” using standardized scientific methods.
In India, a drug de-addiction center in the city of Imphal has been busted for operating as a drug den for the financial gain of the officials and employees entrusted to help their clients find the path of recovery. Run under the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the government agency is responsible for welfare, social justice, and empowerment of the marginalized sections of Indian society, including drug abusers and addicts.
This shocking revelation was revealed in a press release issued by the All Manipur Anti Drug Association (AMADA). The press release was in response to multiple reports of officials at the New Life De-Addiction Centre dealing various drugs to their patients. According to Meghachandra Konjengbam, secretary of the AMADA, local activists from his organization raided the rehab in Imphal. Although the information had been handed over to officials at the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, no action had been taken since.
The treatment centers are seen as a last attempt by desperate parents to access recovery for their children. Many of these families reportedly pawned gold ornaments and other valuables to help pay the costs. But rather than “Offering Hope and Recovery to Those Struggling with Addiction,” the New Life De-Addiction Centre did the exact opposite. During the raid, the AMADA activists discovered that most of the clients were under the influence of drugs or in the process of taking drugs.
Even worse, counselors and staff members were also found to be abusing illegal drugs on the premises. The type of drugs being used were not specified in the reports, and it remains uncertain whether or not the doctors and staff will be prosecuted by authorities.
A group of Christian leaders have released a statement in time for the Easter holiday calling for an end to the war on drugs and mass incarceration.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance press release, they chose the upcoming Easter holiday to make their statement in light of the spirit of the Resurrection, to “call for a rebirth and resurrection of communities burdened by the harms of injustice oftentimes masquerading under the guise of law and order and criminal justice.”
“The war on drugs has become a costly, ineffective and unjust failure,” said Reverend Edwin Sanders, a Senior Servant for the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tenn. Sanders criticized the misguided war waged on entire communities, which has been done “ostensibly under the guise of combating the very real harms of drug abuse.”
The coalition’s recommendations outlined in the statement take aim at policies that criminalize drug possession that result in racially disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates, instead favoring health approaches to drug use, including evidence-based drug treatment.
The statement criticized the drug war’s disproportionate burden on poor and black communities. According to Reverend John E. Jackson, the mass incarceration of the poor has been robbing whole communities of their most precious resource, their young, whose futures are being ruined at a critical point in their lives.
“We are called upon to follow Jesus’ example in opposing the war on drugs, which has resulted in the United States becoming the world’s biggest jailer, with about five percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners,” Sanders said.
The Christian leaders will meet for a press teleconference on Wednesday to discuss their statement.
Not all religious leaders are on board with drug policy reform, however — not even progressive-minded Pope Francis. Last June, while on a visit to a crack cocaine clinic in Brazil, the pope came out in disagreement with the growing group of Latin American leaders who now favor liberalizing drug policies to combat the many societal ills that stem from the drug war.
“A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug use, as is currently being proposed in various parts of Latin America,” he said. The pope instead focused on addressing the underlying problem behind drug use, favoring “educating young people in the values that build up life in society."