UNODC and Thailand discuss developing a national early warning mechanism for synthetic drugs

Bangkok (Thailand), 29 March 2023 – The global evolution of the synthetic drug market has had significant ramifications for country responses. The market for methamphetamine has continued to expand in both scope and scale, while new psychoactive substances (NPS) and various synthetic drug products have emerged in the synthetic drug market. These market shifts have further complicated the situation and pose serious public health challenges that require adequate responses.

To respond to these developments, early warning systems have been established in some countries and regional organizations around the world to prevent crises before they occur. These systems are multidisciplinary, inter-institutional networks that enable information exchange among key actors, directly or indirectly, involved in the field of drugs to identify new substances and products, as well as notable changes in the drug market.

Southeast Asia is not immune to these developments, yet no national or regional early warning mechanism exists in the region. To address this gap, UNODC has held national consultative dialogues on early warning with several countries in the region to discuss the establishment of early warning systems, including in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. On 28-29 March 2023, UNODC together with the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) of Thailand organized this dialogue as well for institutions in Thailand. The two-day dialogue was the first meeting among representatives from forensic experts, health professionals, law enforcement, regulatory bodies, and civil society organizations working in the field of drugs to consider and discuss the necessary steps to create an early warning system in the country.

Sahaphume Srisuma from the Ramathibodi Poison Center sharing information collected from the center and providing perspective on how the health sector can contribute to an early warning system

“Thailand has been especially affected by the emergence of new synthetic drug products in recent years, including ‘k-powdered milk’ and ‘happy water’. While we do have mechanisms in place that resemble early warning, they are limited in scope and spread between agencies,” said Preyanuch Leuhatong, Director of the International Organizations Division, Foreign Affairs Bureau, of ONCB. “This meeting, which gathers relevant institutions from across the nation, is a crucial step in developing a single platform, national early warning system that can reduce harm, benefit the public, and help us better understand emerging threats in the country.”

Krisadakorn Sortong, Technical Officer of the Raks Thai Foundation, shares his experiences from working with drug users in the community

The dialogue served as a venue to discuss a concept for a national early warning system, taking into account the Thai context, and identify areas for strengthening data exchange among participating institutions. “The community is the first to know and the first to be affected by changes in the drug market, but fear of punitive measures and limited access to services to help identify new, dangerous substances limit their engagement with authorities,” said Krisadakorn Sortong, Technical Officer of the Raks Thai Foundation. “It is important to incorporate the valuable input of drug users in ways that are safe and accessible for them.”

“The participants had an engaging conversation over the course of the dialogue on what an early warning would look like for Thailand and discussed actionable steps that can be taken to establish one,” said Inshik Sim, Regional Coordinator for East Asia and the Pacific for the UNODC Global SMART Programme. “UNODC will continue to work with partner agencies in Thailand to provide support on developing a national early warning system.”

Click here to learn more about UNODC’s Regional Programme for Southeast Asia

Click here to learn more about UNODC’s work to address drug and precursor challenges in the region

Click here to learn more about UNODC’s Global SMART Programme