Since devastating rains in the late 1990’s destroyed their poppy crop, North Korean enterprises have turned to the production of crystal meth as their export drug of choice. Much of the drug passes through the DPRK’s porous border with northeast China, especially the Korean autonomous prefecture in the province of Jilin, which has become one of the country’s largest markets for what the Chinese call ice.

Last year the prefecture’s border patrol arrested six North Koreans, including a dealer named ‘Sister Kim,’ and seized thousands of grams of the drug. Despite other high profile busts in the past few years, use is growing. Yanji, the capital of the provincial region, saw a 50-fold growth in the number of registered drug addicts from 1991 to 2010, and the numbers appear to be growing rapidly in North Korea as well.

Ice imbues the user with an intense feeling of euphoria, concentration, and grandiosity, sometimes for days. Comedown brings depression, fatigue; over 20 percent of addicts who quit develop a form of psychosis resembling schizophrenia that lasts for longer than six months after their last hit.

Paradoxically, the more Pyongyang opens up for trade the bigger the problem of drug smuggling will be. The border between the two countries stretches for 880 miles, most of it a river which freezes in the winter and is extremely difficult to police. Cheap, available, and, for the North Koreans, an antidote to hunger, ice is becoming a problem.

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Isaac Stone Fish contributes to Newsweek as its Beijing correspondent, and has written features on China’s love affair with rogue states, Xinhua News Agency’s global expansion plan, and the...
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Sean Gallagher is a British environmental photojournalist, videographer and multimedia producer who has been based in Asia for more than seven years. His work focuses on highlighting environmental...