DUBAI // About three times more crystal methamphetamine has been seized in the first five months of this year than in the whole of last year, officials said yesterday.
Dubai police took in more than 122kg of the highly addictive drug between January and May this year, compared with 41kg in all of 2010.
In the same period, authorities seized a total of about 230kg of drugs, including almost 36,000 amphetamine pills.
Police hailed the drug hauls as victories against traffickers.
"The success we have in foiling drug trafficking and sales in the country and outside is due to the strict guidelines and goals set by Dubai Police Chief Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan," said Maj Gen Abdel Jalil Mehdi, director of the Dubai Police anti-narcotics department. "Strict instructions delivered from the police chief dictate that no narcotics-related case is to be taken lightly. A highly qualified team of officers and unlimited logistics support, as well as a wide net of international relations, have helped us this year."
After crystal meth, the most-common drug seized was heroin (74kg), cocaine (18kg), hashish, marijuana and opium.
But officials said that the dramatic rise in methamphetamine seizures was a symptom of the growing popularity of synthetic drugs worldwide.
"The international drug consumption trend has moved from traditional drugs like cocaine, heroin and marijuana towards amphetamines and methamphetamine," said Mohammed Al Merri, executive director of cargo operations at Dubai Customs.
The popularity of amphetamines has grown across the GCC for the second year in a row, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) world drug report for 2011.
Officials said the Middle East accounted for almost two-thirds of the world's total amphetamines seizures for 2008 and 2009 - or more than 34 tonnes. Advances in the science of narcotic production and the availability of recipes online has made it easy for these drugs to be created and circulated, said Faisal Hijazi, a programme director at the United Nations office in Cairo.
"The enhanced effects to the user delivered by synthetic drugs such as amphetamines and their cheapness have contributed in a global increase in the consumption of such narcotics," he said.
Mr Hijazi warned that Arab countries were being specifically targeted for the distribution of amphetamine-based drugs. He said the problem could get out of control if unchecked.
UNODC chief Antonio Maria Costa has also warned of surging production and abuse of synthetic drugs in the Middle East, as traffickers looked beyond their traditional western markets.
"These new drugs cause a double problem," Mr Costa said. "First, they are being developed at a much faster rate than regulatory norms and law enforcement can keep up. Second, their marketing is cunningly clever, as they are custom-manufactured so as to meet the specific preference in each situation."
The UAE's legal system specifies harsh punishments for trading in amphetamines and methamphetamines. In 2010, a Filipino was sentenced to life in prison for attempting to sell 0.16 grams of crystal meth to undercover officers.
"We will prosecute any individual to the full extent of the law who consumes or peddles in synthetic drugs," Dubai chief narcotics prosecutor Waleed Al Fuqai said this year. "I stress and vow that we will be very stringent with illegal traffickers and smugglers of these drugs, and will also prosecute any person who consumes them without a medical reason."