The Korea Customs Service seized a record total of drugs in the first half of this year.
Customs officials impounded 329 kilograms (725 pounds) of drugs from January to June, up 39 percent compared to the previous year.
But the number of drug smuggling cases dropped to 325 from last year’s 370, meaning busts are hauling in bigger caches of narcotics.
Over one kilogram of drugs was seized per case this year.
Rising demand is one reason for the increase, the agency said. High local street values of drugs are also motivating smugglers.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, methamphetamine costs $450 a gram on average in Korea in 2022, much higher than $44 in the United States and $13 in Thailand.
Almost half of the busts involved drugs sent through international shipping, 28 percent through courier service, 25 percent through individual travelers and 1 percent via general cargo services.
The number of drug smuggling cases through individual travelers surged 103 percent on year, suggesting drug dealers are gradually returning to pre-Covid-19 practices.
Methamphetamines, commonly known as philopon in Korea, accounted for the highest proportion of drugs smuggled into the country at 43 percent of the total amount seized. Cannabis, ketamine, synthetic cannabinoids and MDMA, or ecstasy, followed in that order.
Demand for ecstasy and ketamine, mostly found at night clubs in Korea, and Yaba, a combination of meth and caffeine, are soaring.
The Korea Customs Service believes demand for MDMA and Yaba is rising because they come in easily ingested pill form. The dark web allows young people to more easily buy drugs, too.
Twenty-four percent of the drugs were smuggled from the United States and Thailand each, followed by Laos with 12 percent, Vietnam with 10 percent and China with 6 percent.
The amount of drugs smuggled from Southeast Asian countries, in particular, surged 115 percent on year. The region also accounted for more than half of the drugs seized in the first half of the year.
The agency said a joint drug crackdown with Thai authorities and the rising supply of Yaba, ketamine, synthetic cannabinoids and other drugs from Southeast Asia account for the high figure.
The number of drug offenders reached an all-time high last year.
A total of 18,395 drug offenders were busted in Korea last year, up from 2021’s 16,153, according to the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office.
Teenagers and people in their 20s accounted for 34.2 percent, rising over twofold from 2017’s 15.8 percent.
“Illegal drug dealing is threatening lives with an average of two drug smuggling busts hauling in 2 kilograms of drugs a day,” said Ko Kwang-hyo, commissioner of the Korea Customs Service.
“It is essential that the public cooperate with the government to restore the country’s reputation as a drug-free country.”
The Korea Customs Service will promote a campaign at Incheon International Airport to prevent drug smuggling in the country through the end of August.
President Yoon Suk Yeol declared a war on drugs last October.
BY CHO JUNG-WOO [email@example.com]