North Korea's growing drug problems are fairly well documented, and the Los Angeles Times today takes a deeper dive into the reasons driving the rise, particularly that of crystal meth. In a harsh nation where the sins of an uncle can doom an entire branch of the family tree, Pyongyang has shown relatively little interest in cracking down on narcotics—pot is legal, opium is a common pain reliever, and meth is used to treat colds, flagging energy, and hunger. "If you go to somebody's house it is a polite way to greet somebody by offering them a sniff," says one North Korean. "It is like drinking coffee when you're sleepy, but ice is so much better."
Meth was long produced by Pyongyang itself, as a cash cow export used to fund Kim Jong Il's whims. But since the state officially got out of the meth business, it seems everyone in the impoverished nation wants to be Walter White. One former miner who tried hawking just about everything finally turned to dealing meth. "It was just enough money that I could buy rice to eat and coal for heating," she says. "North Korean people learn fast to reuse their skills," says another ex-pat of the North Koreans driving a cottage industry large enough to spill over the border with China—along with all the problems inherent with the drug trade. Says the meth dealer, who's since quit: "I was doing bad things because everybody else was doing bad things."