Yaba (methamphetamine): The Thai Worker’s Coca Leaf?

by Thailand Lawyer on November 26, 2010

By Kimberly Wied

Stories highlighting the flourishing international drug trade are not new, nor surprising, and although international efforts to control the production and sale of illegal substances have made some headway, it seems more still needs to be done.

Take Thailand, for example, and the quick progress the long, deft fingers of methamphetamine (meth) producers have made over the last 50 years in this country. Known locally as Yaba, the methamphetamine is combined with a large dose of caffeine in a bright pill, often seen in sheens of brilliant orange, red and lime green. Yaba has a long history in Thailand, often used by laborers in order to stay awake for long hours of work, or by other working class Thais such as motorcycle taxi drivers, for similar reasons.  The drug is also very popular for recreational use, from the young and wealthy party-goers in Bangkok to the quiet rural areas in Thailand lacking much in the way of entertainment.

The pills are small, easily fitting into the end of a pen cap, and can be transported quite easily, even across international borders. They’re also fairly inexpensive, compared to other drugs that provide the user with an intense high and sense of alertness.

Apparently, the pills are so popular among Thai workers that they are being mailed or transported internationally, to workers placed around the world to help them endure long hours, in demanding conditions such as agricultural work.  A story on methamphetamine use by Thais in Israel recently made the news in the Jerusalem Post. In order for Thais to receive preference for hire by Israeli employers, they are known to regularly use Yaba pills in order to perform at a higher rate than Israeli agricultural workers.

This has apparently resulted in a large increase in the import of the illegal drug into Israel, although Yaba is not being sold to locals and is mainly used by Thai workers. In effect, Israeli officials are now drafting a plan to inform foreign workers from East Asia about the number of hours they can work legally, as well as provide more information on drugs that are illegal in Israel. Plans are also under way to curb and prevent the import of methamphetamines into Israel, as well as heightened enforcement of labor laws to protect the foreign workers from abuse.

One of the earliest and perhaps least well known mass uses of methamphetamines can be traced back to World War II, when the Nazis handed out the drug “Pervitin”, a brand of meth, to their soldiers, sailors and pilots to help them remain aware and awake during the long, intense hours in the field. However, the Nazis were not the only users of the drug, as American forces and Japanese forces were using it in the same time period for similar purposes.

In Thailand, the production, distribution and purchasing of illegal drugs is a serious crime. Thailand drug laws are steep, and numerous people, both foreign and Thai, are arrested, fined, and sometimes put in prison every year due to violating Thailand’s drug laws. As criminal defense attorneys in Thailand, we see multiple cases such as this every year. The best advice for avoiding the addition of a lengthy criminal case to the agenda for your adventurous Thailand trip? Don’t take or posses illegal drugs. Period.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jenny P February 1, 2011 at 04:09

As Thailand Lawyer explains, methamphetamines are abused both by thrill-seekers and laborers trying to work longer and more intensely. For these reasons, drugs like Yaba are in high demand and difficult to control. The word translates to ‘crazy medicine’ or ‘crazy drugs’ in Thai, and if you meet a Yaba addict, you will understand that this meaning is fitting. Israel’s plan to reduce Yaba trafficking and use will be most effective if officials succeed in their plan to keep an eye on employers who coerce foreign laborers to work longer hours for low wages.

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