In Burma, Junkies Drink *Formula* Of Opium And Cough Syrup

In this opium-rich nation, addiction is on the rise as other cocktails are invented including a mix of pure heroin and methamphetamine.

The number of Burmese heroin addicts is increasing
The number of Burmese heroin addicts is increasing
Banyol Kong Janoi and Paing Soe

MYITKYINA — Burma, also known as Myanmar, is the second-largest opium producer in the world, accounting for 10% of global production. And although there is little available data, residents and aid workers say there’s been a troubling increase in the number of young people here addicted to drugs.

The most popular drug now is known as “formula,” a cocktail of cough medicine and opium that is taken as a drink. But methamphetamine and straight heroin are also common.

Sang Naw, who is 23, injects heroin into his veins twice a day, having started the dangerous habit after failing his high school exams six years ago. “Some of my friends were using it, so I wanted to have a try,” he says. “The first time, my friend gave me too much and it nearly killed me. Froth started coming from my mouth.”

He sometimes works in the logging industry with his relatives. But when he’s not working, he injects heroin with friends. “My mother sent me to Yangon to quit,” he says. “I was there for two or three months, and I was clean.”

But he says once he returned to Kachin state, he started using it again. “If I go to the rehabilitation center, I can quit for a month or two. But when I’m back, I see my friends, and I start using again. It’s so easy to buy here.”

Brang Nu, a pastor from the Baptist Church in a village near the Myitsone Dam Project in Kachin state, recalls that the president stopped the China-backed dam project two years ago following a public outcry.

“After the project started, many gold-panners came to this area,” he says. “That’s when the drug business started. We’d never heard of this drug before. It was just beer. Now everyone, young and old, is using drugs.”

There are no official figures on how many drug addicts there are in the country, but social workers say the numbers are increasing. And with the recent democratic reforms, Burma is under pressure to tackle its drug problem.

The government has created an anti-drug campaign song to broadcast nationwide. The lyrics warn that “Drugs are like fire, they will destroy your life.” The campaign’s album is on sale to the public in an effort to stop people from using drugs.

U Kyaw Min, who lost his younger brother to an overdose, has founded the Voluntary Social Workers’ Association that works to help drug addicts quit. “I couldn’t help a member of my family who was addicted to drugs and died,” he says. “I don’t want this to happen to other people.”

But he says it’s difficult to break the cycle. “Even after years in a rehabilitation camp, where we give them vocational training, when they go back into society they start using drugs again. We have to understand that they are patients who need help for a very long time.”

So prevention is the best solution. “We raise awareness in communities and schools. We know our work is small, but this small thing can have a big impact on the future.”

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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