Emerging trends and concerns

  • Crystalline methamphetamine continues to be the primary drug of concern in the Philippines, and accounts for the vast majority of drug-related arrests and drug treatment admissions in the country.
  • The manufacture and trafficking of crystalline methamphetamine by transnational organized criminal groups from China, as well as the increasing involvement of Mexican drug syndicates in illicit drug trafficking, poses a threat to the country.
  • New types of synthetic drugs sold in tablet form, and often containing a combination of different substances, are emerging in the Philippines.In recent years, increasing amounts of heroin from Afghanistan have been trafficked into the country via the Islamic Republic of Iran or Pakistan.

Overview of the drug situation

Crystalline methamphetamine remains the most problematic drug of use in the Philippines. According to the latest drug use survey conducted by the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), there were an estimated 1.8 million drug users in the Philippines.,  Excluding cannabis, crystalline methamphetamine was the most widely abused drug in the country, accounting for approximately half (48.9%, 859,150 individuals) of the current drug users. Crystalline methamphetamine users also continue to account for the majority of drug-related arrests and treatment admissions. “Ecstasy” use remains limited. A large number of drug users in the Philippines are polydrug users.

Table 1. Trend in use of selected drugs in the Philippines, 2011-2015

The use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) is limited in the Philippines. The non-medical use of ketamine use has been reported for some years. However, the low seizures in recent years (see Table 2) might indicate that the use is not widespread. However, it appears that markets for new types of drugs have been gradually developing in the country over recent years. Some seized tablets, referred to as “Fly High”, were found to contain MDMA and methamphetamine.  New products suspected to contain NPS and sold in capsules as “Green Apple” and “Green Amore” have been detected on the market as well in recent years.

Figure 1. The number of persons who use crystalline methamphetamine among all treatment admissions, 2010 – 2015

Cannabis remains the most widely used drug in the Philippines according to the latest drug use survey, accounting for 72% (1,270,048 estimated users) of the total current drug users. In 2015, 20% (1,091) of all treatment admissions were related to cannabis. A large number of cannabis plantation sites (286) were eradicated by Philippine authorities in 2015, most of which (82%) were located in Cordillera Administrative Region on the island of Luzon.  

The number of all treatment admissions related to drugs has been increasing rapidly in recent years in line with the increasing number of persons admitted for using methamphetamine (see figure 1). Over the last six years, the number of persons treated for methamphetamine in the country nearly tripled from 1,929 in 2010 to 5,226 in 2015. The proportion of women treated for methamphetamine use remained low at 7% in 2015. The 31 persons in treatment for “ecstasy” use in 2015 continued to make up less than 1% of all persons admitted to drug treatment of that year in the country.

Between 2009 and 2012, an average of about 145 kg of the crystalline methamphetamine was seized in the Philippines per year, compared to an annual average of 636 kg between 2013 and 2015. While the steep increase in seizures of crystalline methamphetamine could reflect increased law enforcement activities, treatment admission, price, and purity trends denote a growing demand of the drug in the country. According to the preliminary figures from national authorities, nearly 2.5 mt of crystalline methamphetamine were seized in 2016, the largest amount within the last decade.

The manufacture of crystalline methamphetamine continues to be a concern in the Philippines, even though the number of crystalline methamphetamine manufacture facilities dismantled in the country appears to be on the decline in recent years. Between 2010 and 2015, a total of 25 facilities manufacturing crystalline methamphetamine were dismantled, including two laboratories in 2015, one in Cagayan province and the other in Masbate province. In 2016, Philippine national authorities dismantled 10 methamphetamine facilities, one of them a ‘floating laboratory’ found off Subic Bay in July 2016.  

Table 2. Seizures of selected drugs and precursor chemicals in the Philippines, 2011-2015

Methamphetamine is not only manufactured in the country but also trafficked from other countries and regions into the Philippines. The manufacture and trafficking of crystalline methamphetamine from China by transnational organized criminal groups is of major concern. According to Philippine national authorities, more than half (373 persons) of a total of 710 foreign nationals arrested for drug-related offences, were Chinese nationals.  There is also increasing concern over the targeting of the country by Mexican drug syndicates since 2012. For instance, between May 2014 and April 2015, there were three methamphetamine seizure incidents totaling 600 kg at the Port of Manzanillo, Mexico, bound for the Philippines.

The size and extent of the “ecstasy” market in the Philippine remains relatively small in comparison to its neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, such as Indonesia and Malaysia. However, seizures of “ecstasy” tablets rose significantly from 52 tablets in 2013 to 3,599 tablets in 2014, and 2,902 tablets in 2015.

The Philippines is a transit and a destination point for cocaine trafficking from South America. According to Philippine national authorities, a large majority of cocaine seized in the past two years were trafficked to the country from Peru, Brazil and Ecuador via Hong Kong, China and United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Crystalline methamphetamine samples analysed in the Philippines in 2015 had an average purity of 57% methamphetamine, having previously been reported at 74% in 2014 and 73% in 2013. The retail price for 1 gram of crystalline methamphetamine in 2015 ranged between USD 30 and 318. The decline in purity at roughly stable price level, while seizures and treatment admissions increased, suggests a growing demand for crystalline methamphetamine in the Philippines.

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