About Drugs & Conflict in Burma

TNI's work on drugs and conflict in Burma brings together its long-term work on international drugs policies, and its in-depth research on Burma particularly on the ethnic minority regions where most opium is currently grown. TNI tries to bring nuance to the polarised debate on the Yangon-focussed political agenda, the demonising of the cease-fire groups and repressive drug policy approaches.

Hundreds of thousands of people from the many ethnic minorities in the Shan and Kachin States, who depended on the opium economy, have been sacrificed in an effort to comply with international pressures about drug-free deadlines. Enforcement of tight deadlines has resulted in major food shortages and may jeopardise the fragile social stability in the areas.

Without adequate resources, the longer-term sustainability of "quick solutions" is highly questionable. Since military authorities are eager to comply with promises made, law enforcement repression is likely to increase, with the result of more human rights abuses and more displacement. Already opium production is increasing in southern Shan State and several other areas in the country, while the regional drugs market is experiencing ‘withdrawal symptoms’ and consumer shifts to other substances, in particular amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS).


  • Easing of drug control deadline pressures, introducing more humane policies towards drug users and opium farmers. 
  • Harm reduction approaches need to be introduced to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS, particularly in the north of the country where infection rates among injecting drug users are among the highest of the world. 
  • Prevention, treatment and harm reduction programmes should not only focus on opiate users, but also address the needs of the growing numbers of ATS users. 
  • To sustain the gradual decline in opium production, alternative sources of income for basic subsistence farmers have to be secured with increased international humanitarian aid. 
  • Stronger international engagement, especially with the cease-fire groups that control most of the country involved in drug production.