A new study reveals vast quantities are being made for export by state-trained scientists in collusion with corrupt officials and criminal gangs in a country desperate for hard currency.
Inevitably, it has ended up creating a catastrophic epidemic back home. In some parts of the country up to 50 per cent of the population are reported to be hooked.
The study discloses drug abuse has reached ‘remarkable proportions and keeps growing, engulfing new social groups and regions’.
The inquiry, by two South Korea-based academics, is based on interviews with 21 recent defectors. It confirms earlier evidence from the US and China, where there are soaring levels of crystal meth addiction in border regions with North Korea.
Perhaps most remarkably, the trade began as a state-sponsored exercise.
The nation, hit hard by the collapse of the Soviet Union which supported it with aid, began making methamphetamine in large laboratories in its poorer northern regions for export.
These were scaled down about eight years ago as the drug began flooding back into the country.
But instead of slowing down production, this sparked explosive growth in crystal meth manufacture.
Jobless scientists and technicians created their own ‘kitchen labs’, teaming up with smuggling gangs that blossomed during a deadly famine in the Nineties.
‘They were rather old people and their lives were tough,’ one defector told the report’s authors. ‘Private entrepreneurs began to look for such people and employ them.’
Users include soldiers in the world’s most militarised state, women taking it for weight control and sick people unable to access medicines in a country with such chronic healthcare that doctors use old beer bottles for hospital drips.
‘People in North Korea do not realise what the side effects will be,’ said Professor Kim Seok-Hyang, who co-authored the report. ‘They think it is a good thing to relieve their pain. A cure-all medicine.’
Parents even offer it to children to help them concentrate – with no inkling of the consequences.