While North Koreans celebrate the Lunar New Year like many of their Asian neighbors, they do some things slightly differently, a new report has claimed.
Instead of red envelopes filled with cash, citizens have reportedly been giving crystal meth to one another as a gift, according to The New York Times.
Called “Pingdu” among locals, the highly addictive drug is reportedly a popular gift item in the country during birthdays, graduations, and “holidays such as the Lunar New Year.”
Experts noted that while methamphetamines are illegal in the country, it is an open secret that North Koreans have been giving the drug as gifts.
“Meth, until recently, has been largely seen inside North Korea as a kind of very powerful energy drug—something like Red Bull, amplified,” Kookmin University professor Andrei Lankov was quoted as saying.
Lankov, an expert on Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) issues, stated that the practice of giving each other crystal meth was common in stories from North Korean defectors.
The drug is consumed either through injection or snorting casually, just like smoking a cigarette.
Due to the lack of healthcare in the country, some users allegedly use the drug for self-medication as an alternative to other traditional medical options.
The alleged practice was first reported last week on U.S. government-funded news outlet Radio Free Asia, citing an anonymous source from the DPRK.
According to the source, “Ice has become a best-selling holiday gift item.” It also noted that “most of the buyers are young people, even those still in middle school.”
“They usually buy ice to snort together during holidays,” the source explained. “They want to forget their harsh reality and enjoy themselves.”
“In the past, ice users would try to be discreet, not wanting others to know that they were buying, but these days nobody seems to care.”
As the New York Times pointed out, methamphetamine has long been associated with North Korea.
The Nautilus Institute published a report in 2003 that revealed: “the North Korean regime has been involved in illegal drug production and trafficking since the 1970s” and that “these efforts increased in the 1990s as the country’s economic situation worsened… [and] heroin production was supplemented by methamphetamine production.”
Based on a 2014 report, the state started manufacturing and exporting methamphetamine in the 1990s as a means to access currency to defy trade restrictions.
The report alleged that most of the meth was exported across the northern border to China or handed off at sea to criminal organizations from China and Japan.
Findings further revealed that the production was “clearly sponsored and controlled” by the government, although it began to decline in the mid-2000s.
Without channels to export the drug due to sanctions, many manufacturers began selling to locals. Over the years, meth became a popular gift used at celebrations.
“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 told Radio Free Asia. “Social stigmas surrounding drug use [have disappeared], so people now feel that something big is missing if they don’t have ice or opium prepared as a holiday gift.”
Meanwhile, the North Korean government has denied both allegations of production and use by its citizens. According to its state-run news agency in 2013, “the illegal use, trafficking, and production of drugs which reduce human being into mental cripples do not exist in the DPRK.”