Thailand is set for a new “war on drugs” as addiction rates increase and the country’s new president hints at a hard line stance.
The equivalent of one in every sixty citizens in Thailand is a methamphetamine user, the head of the country's anti-drug police told the Guardian. Around 1.1 million Thais will use the drug this year.
The number of users has soared by 100,000 annually over the last five to six years, said Lieutenant-General Atitep Panjamanond.
The drug, which commonly comes in tablet form is known to make many users violent and aggressive, and is particularly prevalent in on Thai building and laboring sites, where the work is gruel ling and physically tough.
While the increase in drug use has alarmed Thai police, politicians and the public, there are human rights concerns about how Thailand deals with drug issues.
Yingluck Shinawatra, the recently elected prime minister in waiting, has already pledged "a new war on drugs" and promised to eliminate them within 12 months.
Her politician brother’s 2003 crackdown on drugs - which left many dead in what has been described as “extra-judicial killing” and was widely condemned by human rights groups.
In 3 months more than 2,500 people died after former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra asked police act "decisively and without mercy" on a blacklist of suspected dealers.
Though the police blamed gang crime for most of the deaths – police said 68 were shot by officers "in self-defense." Human rights groups say there is compelling evidence of extra-judicial killings in these cases. A committee later reported that more than half the dead, including a nine-year-old boy, had not been involved in drugs trade.
"No one is disputing the government's desire to take on the drugs industry. It is the means we are concerned about," said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International's south-east Asia researcher told the Guardian.