KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 30 — Synthetic opioid fentanyl, 50 times more potent than heroin, has been found in Thailand, according to anecdotal evidence.
CNN reported Pascal Tanguay, a Bangkok-based expert in drug issues and policy, as saying that a small sample he obtained from a drug user who survived an overdose showed that it was a mix of heroin and fentanyl, which is produced in large quantities in mainland China.
“This is the first indication we’ve had confirming that it’s in heroin supply in Bangkok,” Jeremy Douglas, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s top official in Southeast Asia, was quoted saying.
He reportedly described Tanguay’s finding as a “canary in the coal mine”, as Bangkok is the closest major city to southern China and the Golden Triangle — the border region where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet — that is known for illicit narcotics production.
The opioid crisis in the United States reportedly killed 47,600 people from overdose by 2017 amid overprescribing of the painkillers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Fentanyl mimics heroin. It’s far more profitable than heroin, so it’s a matter of time before it gets pushed into the heroin market,” Douglas was quoted saying. “We’ve seen what the impacts can be. You don’t cut it right, you have (an) overdose. And this region is not ready for an overdose epidemic.”
Experts told CNN, however, that there is insufficient data to determine if a synthetic opioid crisis is imminent or already present in Southeast Asia, despite Tanguay’s finding that suggested at least some fentanyl has been mixed into Bangkok’s heroin supply.
Nonetheless, experts reportedly expressed concern that drug dealers would diversify their portfolios and start producing illicit synthetic opioids, even as Asia is struggling with what is believed to be the world’s biggest methamphetamine problem.