The Hot Gift in North Korea Right Now Is Reportedly Meth

Sources say it's being given as a Lunar New Year present
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 12, 2019 10:35 AM CST
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In this Feb. 5, 2019, photo, people visit statues of late North Korean leaders to place flower bouquets during the Lunar New Year in Pyongyang, North Korea.   (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)

(Newser) – The Lunar New Year is one of Korea's two biggest holidays, and a pair of reports suggest the hot gift to give is "pingdu"—that is, meth. Radio Free Asia on Friday published an article that cited sources from within North Korea on the trend; one said it's a best-selling gift. "Since the mid-2000s, drugs have become commonplace and the people now think that the holidays are not a joyful time if there are no drugs for them to enjoy," the source added. The New York Times followed that report with one of its own, which noted the Times couldn't verify Radio Free Asia's claim—but it spoke to two experts who interviewed defectors in 2013 and 2016 and back up the assertion. And they're hardly the first pair of reports on the subject.

"How North Korea got itself hooked on meth" ran in the Washington Post in 2013; "In North Korea, meth is offered as casually as a cup of tea" appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 2014. As for the "how" question, the New York Times provides the backstory: Meth arrived in the Koreas a century ago; per a 2014 study, in the '90s the North Korean government got in on the game, producing it for export as a way to make some badly needed cash. A decade or so later, the government started to back off on production, and those who'd been employed by the government in some cases took their knowledge and began manufacturing it on their own. Absent adequate medical supplies, one expert says drugs like meth are taken in a medicinal fashion as well as in a recreational one. (A researcher had this to say about how many adults have tried it.)

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