According to the 2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Burma is the world's second largest producer of illicit opium. Eradication efforts and implementation of poppy-free zones by hill tribe growers reduced cultivation levels dramatically between 1998 and 2006. But in 2007, a significant resurgence of cultivation occurred and in 2008, the upward trend in cultivation and production continued.
The overall decline in poppy cultivation in Burma since 1996 has been accompanied by a sharp increase in the local production and export of synthetic drugs. Opium, heroin, and amphetamine-type substances are produced predominantly in the border regions of Shan State and in areas controlled by ethnic minority groups.
The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report notes that Burmese law enforcement officials have achieved successes in 2009. Seizures are up, including nearly thirteen-fold increase in the seizure of methamphetamine tablets and sharp upward spikes in the amounts of precursor chemical seized.
In order for the reduction in poppy cultivation to be sustainable, a true opium replacement strategy must combine a range of counternarcotics actions, including crop eradication and effective law enforcement alternative development options, support for former poppy farmers, and openness to outside assistance. To reach its goals of eradicating all narcotics production and trafficking by 2014, the Burmese government must seek to cooperate closely with the ethnic groups currently involved in drug production and trafficking.
The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report also calls on Burma to consider effective new steps to address the explosion of amphetamine-type substances and production and trafficking from Burmese territory by gaining closer cooperation from ethnic groups.
Increased international assistance could complement Burma's efforts in reducing drug production and trafficking in Burma. But direct provision of assistance to the Burmese government by many donors, including the United States, is contingent on meaningful democratic change. The U.S. suspended direct counternarcotics assistance to Burma in 1988 when the military overturned the democratic election of the National League for Democracy. Now is the time for the military regime of Burma to respect the voice of its people and allow a democratic transition to begin.