Why should you worry when your neighbor is addicted to Yaba

As Bangladesh is both a transit and destination country for the Yaba drug trafficking network, Indian law enforcement agencies must be on constant watch.

If the United States is addicted to fentanyl and heroin, Europe to cannabis, Latin America to cocaine, Arab countries to amphetamines, African countries to cannabis, most Asian countries including India to cannabis and opium, neighboring Bangladesh is addicted to the synthetic pleasure drug called Yaba.
Yaba, a mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine, sold as inexpensive red or pink pills, is the current craze among all segments of the population in Bangladesh. It is nicknamed “the mad pill”, “Nazi speed” or “medicine of madness”. Yaba addiction is also one of the fastest growing drug epidemics in the world. It is estimated that there are over 30 million users in Southeast Asia alone. Yaba is the Thai word for “mad medicine”, it is known as “Shabu” in Japan and Indonesia, “Bingdu” in China, and “Batu” in the Philippines. It is also called “Chasing the Cherry”. It used to be called Yama (horse drug) because it was given to horses that dragged huge carts on the steep hills of Myanmar. It wasn’t until after 1996 that he became known by several slangs including Yaba (medicine for madness) and Kyethi (pimple).
The yaba first appeared in Bangladesh in 2002 and its use and abuse has steadily increased since then. Illicitly manufactured in industrial quantities in Myanmar, it is smuggled into Bangladesh in the extreme south-eastern part of the country, where the border partly follows the Naf River. It was across this river that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fled to Bangladesh in 2017, to escape Burmese military repression. Today, nearly a million destitute refugees live in makeshift camps in various refugee camps in Bangladesh, and drug traffickers have managed to turn many of them, often women, into mules, who introduce packets of pills in their vagina. The traffickers prefer to use Rohingya women or children as smugglers because they remain less suspect. Drugs are carried inside shoes, underwear, waistband, rectum and abdomen.
Yaba users typically heat the tablet by placing it on aluminum foil, and then inhale the vapors from the molten tablets. Others crush the powdered tablets and sniff them. It smells like vanilla and creates a hyper-alert state of rushed energy. Users claim that it inflames the blood and makes the body as strong as a lion. Hence, consumption of Yaba is strongly associated with gender in Bangladesh. Yaba is a symbol of intelligence, fashion and aristocracy. Models, movie stars, singers, dancers and many celebrities take it as an aphrodisiac. Yaba exerts its stimulating effects by directly stimulating the central nervous system and stimulating the sympathetic nervous system. Its action begins 5 to 6 minutes after ingestion and lasts for hours, even longer with higher doses. Effects include euphoria, heightened alertness, arousal, irritability, aggressiveness, decreased appetite, hot flashes and a dry mouth. Users enjoy more pleasurable sex and orgasms because Yaba is a highly addictive psychostimulant associated with increased sexual desire, arousal and sexual pleasure. It increases libido, engagement in group sex, increased ability to have serial sex, transactional sex, impulsive and coercive sex. This is why it is also called the “pleasure drug”.
The Yaba craze among young people is the biggest problem in Bangladesh. It is estimated that there are around 4.6 million regular users of Yaba in Bangladesh, and the number is increasing alarmingly every day.
Chronic use leads to tremors, hypertension, hallucinations, damage to the small blood vessels of the brain and heart, psychotic episodes, paranoid delirium, violent behavior, hyperthermia, convulsions, restlessness, anxiety, nervousness and psychosis, similar to schizophrenia. Yaba has the property of developing tolerance leading to a gradual increase in the amount of medicine needed.
The demand for the drug has increased at an alarming rate, as authorities struggle to stem the flow of tens of millions of pills pouring in from Myanmar, where they are manufactured, and flooding towns and villages in Bangladesh. Teknaf is the city at the heart of Yaba commerce in the southeastern district of Cox’s Bazar. The Naf River, which separates Bangladesh and Myanmar, is teeming with illegal ships carrying drugs and Rohingya refugees. Myanmar is seen as the main country of origin for methamphetamine pills seized throughout the Mekong subregion and parts of East and Southeast Asia, reveals a 2015 report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Myanmar is home to the largest number of clandestine laboratories in Yaba. The synthetic pill Yaba does not depend on unreliable opium crops; it is easy to manufacture, is small, attractive and easy to smuggle. Hundreds of amphetamine laboratories located in Burma along the borders of Thailand and China have made Myanmar the world’s largest producer of Yaba. Myanmar’s Yaba traffickers are considered to be one of the largest and most heavily armed trafficking groups in the world.
Bangladesh, with its busy seaports and vast porous borders, was the obvious choice for drug traffickers. Later it turned into a booming and lucrative market. Bangladesh shares a 4000 kilometer (2485 mile) border with India and a 250 kilometer (155 mile) border with Rakhine State in Myanmar, the scene of the current Rohingya refugee crisis. For a poor country like Bangladesh, dealing with both Yaba’s smuggling and the influx of Rohingya is a phenomenal task.
Rohingya camps are ideal for storing Yaba drug shipments. Yaba tablets are transported from Maungdaw town in Rakhine to the Tombru border, where they blend effortlessly into the Rohingya camps located just off the zero line along Bangladesh. The densely populated Rohingya camps in Ukhiya are operated to store shipments from Yaba, until they are still transported to Cox’s Bazar. In the Teknaf region, Yaba drug traffickers have endeared themselves to desperate Rohingyas by regularly donating free food and money to support numerous families. This acts as a bulwark against police action in the area, and the Rohingya refugee families are very secretive about the Yaba trafficking. It is estimated that there are over one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. They live in gloomy conditions without any means of subsistence. Yaba’s smuggling helps them earn a living and pay for basic necessities. In 2018, a major raid on drug trafficking took place in Bangladesh where a record 53 million methamphetamine tablets were seized. Nearly 300 suspected drug traffickers were killed, 40 of them from the Teknaf region, near the Rohingya camps. Some 25,000 people were arrested, many of them Rohingya. In May 2020, Myanmar police made massive synthetic drug seizures in Shan State and recovered precursor ingredients from China, India, Thailand and Vietnam, indicating involvement of crime syndicates transnational. It is also reported that the drug is manufactured in Malda in Bengal and in Agartala in Tripura in India.
Yaba’s continued smuggling forced the government of Bangladesh to pass the Narcotics Control Bill in October 2018 providing for the death penalty or life imprisonment as punishment for drug-related offenses. An anti-narcotic crackdown followed, which left nearly 519 people killed in shootings, with more than one lakh arrested for their alleged involvement in narcotics trafficking, in June 2020. Local Bangladeshi media use the term “fire” cross “in quotation marks, to refer to a widely held suspicion that shootings are mostly staged, just as the Indian press uses the term” encounter “to refer to suspicious police killings.
If Yaba turns out to be such a big plague in Bangladesh, how can neighboring India go unaffected? On October 27, 2021, Indian Customs seized 2 crore rupees from Yaba at Madhyamgram in the North 24 Parganas district, near Kolkata. Two people were arrested and 28,000 Yaba tablets seized. Later, 8,000 more tablets were seized at another location and another person was arrested.
In September 2021, 2.30 Yaba lakh tablets worth Rs 8 cents were seized along the Assam-Mizoram border by police in Assam.
A joint operation by the Border Security Force (BSF) and DRI officials in January 2020 resulted in a massive seizure of 168,500 Yaba tablets worth over Rs 8.92 crore in Matinagar, a village bordering the district of Sipahijala, 60 km from Agartala. This drug trafficking is the largest contraband seizure ever made in Tripura. Northeast India shares a 1,880 kilometer long border with Bangladesh, comprising a panoramic and confusing range of hills, plains and rivers, making the task of controlling the entire stretch of land extremely difficult. two sides.
In February 2020, the Kolkata Police Special Task Force seized 118,000 Yaba tablets worth over Rs 3 crore in Kolkata.
In India, Yaba is also known as “Bhul Bhulaiya”.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) has warned that the growing demand for synthetic opioids in East and Southeast Asia is an indicator that the region will continue to grow as a source of synthetic drugs. As Bangladesh is both a transit and destination country for the Yaba drug trafficking network, Indian law enforcement agencies must be on constant watch. The currently preferred drug of abuse on many Indian educational campuses is “ecstasy,” which shares with Yaba the status of a sexual enhancer. The choice of preference may shift to Yaba if it is marketed at a low price. India also has a large segment of Bangladeshi and Rohingya refugees scattered across the country. Economic constraints can lead them to become Yaba traffickers. But what should be of great concern is that with the influx of drugs there is a free transfer of manufacturing know-how. Today’s trafficker is tomorrow’s manufacturer.
Dr G. Shreekumar Menon, IRS (Rtd) PhD (Narcotics), is the former Director General of the National Academy of Customs, Indirect Taxes and Narcotics.

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