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International News

Southeast Asia Is Reeling From Combo of Meth, AIDS

June 2, 2003

Similar to a trend in the United States, the mixture of methamphetamine and sex has led to an alarming increase in HIV/AIDS in Southeast Asia. Labs throughout the region are churning out meth -- called "yaa-baa," or "crazy drug" in English, eclipsing opium as Southeast Asia's most devastating narcotics problem. And getting "crazy drug" in cities like Bangkok is as easy as walking into almost any of the numerous porn palaces in Pat Pong, the seamy heart of the city.

In the past few years, AIDS has become the leading cause of death in Thailand, in part fueled by the growing meth epidemic. "It has turned our world upside-down," said the Rev. "Father Joe" Maier, a Seattle-area priest who has worked with slum kids in Bangkok for the past thirty-three years. "Something like being afraid of AIDS just doesn't come into your mind when you're in that state. Plus, some addicts need to sell sex to pay the bills," added Maier.

Six years ago, meth was just an oddity here, but now an estimated 800 million meth pills are sold yearly in Thailand -- about 13 for every one of the country's 60 million residents. According to the UN International Narcotics Control Board, Southeast Asia is now host to 70 percent of the world's methamphetamine trade.

A telling sign of the region's meth problem is the drug's reach into communist Laos, which has very strict drug laws and has historically managed to keep out the worst drugs. On a dark street corner in the capital city of Vientiane, a young man forks over 20,000 kip ($2) for one pill, which he plans to use for a "boom-boom girl." "Aren't you worried about AIDS?" he was asked. "What AIDS? I live forever," he stated.

Back to other CDC news for June 2, 2003

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
San Francisco Chronicle
05.29.03; Kevin Fagan

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More on HIV/AIDS in Southeast Asia