According to the Los Angeles Times: “Despite its draconian legal system, North Korea has long been easygoing about narcotics use. With analgesics scarce, opium paste is commonly sold for pain relief. Marijuana (called "mouth tobacco") is legal and frequently grown at home to be mixed in with rolling tobacco.” [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 27, 2014]

Elizabeth Shim of UPI wrote: Drug addiction is a serious problem in North Korea, according to South Korean researchers and North Korean defectors who spoke of their experiences with addiction. “Lee Kwan-hyung, a researcher from Seoul-based Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, said during a seminar about 30 percent of North Koreans use drugs, which have become a part of "everyday life," Yonhap reported. Lee, who has investigated drug use in North Korea, conducted in-depth interviews that led him to conclude drugs are a common part of life and that the environment in the country allows "anyone to easily access drugs." "It would not be extreme to say at least 30 percent of North Koreans use methamphetamines, opium and other drugs," Lee said, referring to his survey of North Koreans who defected after 2010. [Source: Elizabeth Shim, UPI, December 1, 2016]

“In 2015 the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report stated methamphetamines, or crystal meth, continue to dominate North Korea's illicit drug market. The report stated it is not clear whether the North Korean government is directly involved in drug production, but North Korean officials have in the past been apprehended for drug sales.

“The South Korean research indicates drugs are making their way into the hands of ordinary North Koreans. Lee quoted a refugee from Pyongyang as saying, "unless you're a simple organism you do drugs," and a Hyesan refugee who said, "drugs are easier to come by than rice," while highlighting the widespread availability of addictive substances in the country. During the seminar on Thursday an anonymous North Korean defector spoke of addiction and being unable to quit drug use for 10 years before coming to South Korea.”

Reasons Why North Koreans Use Illegal Drugs

Kang Mi Jin wrote in the Daily NK: “North Korea has in recent years grappled with a drug addiction problem among youth, workers and even police officers, with the powerful stimulant methamphetamine or “ice” as their primary drug of choice.“The state may persistently crackdown on drug abuse, but narcotics are still serve medical and social purposes. DailyNK reported in 2014 that for those wanting to curry favour with an official, “the drug ‘ice’ is seen as an ideal gift”, and is commonly seen as a panacea, curing everything from strokes to back pain. [Source: Kang Mi Jin for Daily NK, part of the North Korea network, The Guardian, June 29, 2015]

“Much of this proliferation in drugs is attributed to the failing medical system in the country. Healthcare in North Korea is purportedly free, but has deteriorated at a rapid pace since the mid 1990s. Most are required to pay for medication, and connections generally prove more advantageous than financial means alone.

“With trust in the state service low, many self-medicate with crystal meth or opium, and end up addicted. One of the residents told the source what started as a method to cope with an inflammation in the gallbladder has become a full-blown addiction to opium. “In difficult times like this, I can’t seem to get by without my drugs. I can’t live with my head clear,” he told our source. Government crackdowns and surveillance has led to greater pent-up anxiety, and in many ways encouraged the use of such substances, the source added.

History of Drug Use in North Korea

Opium was once the North Korean drug of choice, but the fields dried up in the middle of the 2000s. Now methamphetamines is the drug of choice. Marijuana has been consumed for some time. It was probably initially used as a medicine. After the Korean War in the 1950s, US soldiers commonly picked cannabis from the DMZ areas near the North Korean border and smoked it.

In the 1970s, North Korea’s cash-poor government began sponsoring local opium cultivation and the production of opiates. Since the 1970s, many North Korean diplomats have been arrested abroad for drug smuggling. In the 1990s, North Korea began manufacturing methamphetamine and heroin for export. The regime earned a considerable of hard currency while North Korea became a nation of drug users. According to The Telegraph: “North Korea has been producing methamphetamine to increase its funds since the 1970s. It was was initially sold as a medicine, but quickly became a hugely popular drug. It is produced in state-run facilities by underpaid chemists and sold both domestically and internationally. As the production and sale of opium declined in the early 2000s, methamphetamine became even more widespread.” [Source: James Rothwell, The Telegraph, August 10. 2016]

Barbara Demick wrote in theLos Angeles Times: “Through the 1990s, the North Korean government ran the production of opium, meth and other drugs for Office 39, a unit raising hard currency for late leader Kim Jong Il, according to narcotics investigators. But the North Korean government has largely gone out of the drug business, according to the U.S. State Department's 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 27, 2014]

When the North Korean government controlled the business, drugs were strictly for export. Privatization made the drugs more widely available within North Korea. Also, North Korea was long seen as a supplier of illegal drugs to China. North Korea began experienced a surge of domestic methamphetamines use after China started cracking down on cross-border smuggling.

A Lot of People Smoke Weed in North Korea

Marijuana is reportedly not considered an illegal drug in North Korea. Ben Tool wrote in Vice News, “NK NEWS receives regular reports from visitors returning from North Korea, who tell us of marijuana plants growing freely along the roadsides, from the northern port town of Chongjin, right down to the streets of Pyongyang, where it is smoked freely and its sweet scent often catches your nostrils unannounced. Our sources are people we know who work inside North Korea and make regular trips in and out of the country.

“There is no taboo around pot smoking in the country — many residents know the drug exists and have smoked it. In North Korea, the drug goes by the name of ip tambae, or "leaf tobacco." It is reported to be especially popular amongst young soldiers in the North Korean military. Rather than getting hooked on tar and nicotine like servicemen in the West, they are able to unwind by lighting up a king-sized bone during down time on the military beat. [Source: Ben Tool, Vice News, January 16, 2013]

“Despite the fact the government doesn't crack down on the use of marijuana (or opium) and its prevalence among the common people, traveling weed enthusiasts eager to sample some NK bud will likely be disappointed. If a Western tourist asks his or her guide where is the best place to get the "special plant," as it is euphemistically referred to, the guide will most likely eschew the question. Most of them are educated enough in Western legal attitudes toward marijuana to not feel the need to promote anything that might attract negative press. Then again, bring them a bottle of Hennessy and they might be more willing to help you out.

“The reasons for smoking weed in North Korea differ from America. In North Korea, you don't smoke just to get high and laugh at your own hand, you do it to save money and as a break from the ubiquitous cheap local cigarettes. In the black markets of North Korea, marijuana is commonly sold at a cheap price and is easily obtainable. Therefore, the drug is especially popular among the lower classes of North Korean society. After a day of hard manual labor, it is common for North Korean workers to smoke marijuana as a way to relax and soothe tight or sore muscles.

“One of the great bits of North Korean mythology we've all heard a million times is that citizens may not fold their newspapers, lest they accidentally fold a picture of their leaders. But luckily not every page features those powerful, attention-seeking bossmen, so all the paper's more easily recyclable parts (sports, weather, TV listings) end up being used to roll up tobacco and marijuana.

“The Rodong Sinmun newspaper is a favorite rolling paper among many North Korean smokers. It is cut up into squares, then rolled into small, cone-shaped spliffs. A source confirmed to NK NEWS that they had found a half-lit joint on the ground in a rural area of the country with the Rodong Sinmun used as rolling paper. The same source noted that, tragically, the weed in North Korea isn't very strong.

“Although weed grows naturally on the Korean peninsula, it is cultivated more formally in some areas. The herb is often grown in the private gardens of North Koreans. An American who travels to North Korea every year commented on Reddit, "We came to a garden one day and took one look and said, 'that is weed!' We went over and sure enough they were growing marijuana. I had heard it is used for medicine but finding it was interesting."

Cannabis on Sale in a North Korean Market

Darmon Richter visited Rason near the Russian border in northeastern North Korea in 2013. Describing a sojourn in a market there he wrote: “We were just walking past the tobacco sellers when we spotted another stall ahead, piled high with mounds of green rather than brown plant matter. It turned out to be exactly what we first suspected: a veritable mountain of marijuana. In the name of scientific enquiry, it seemed appropriate to buy some... and the little old ladies running the stall were happy to load us up with plastic bags full of the stuff, charging us roughly £0.50 each. [Source: Darmon Richter, The Bohemian Blog, March 16, 2016]

“As it turns out the "special plant," as they refer to it here, is completely legal. We decided to test the theory, purchasing papers from another stall before rolling up and lighting comically oversized joints right there in the middle of the crowded market. Bizarre as the situation was, it seemed a reasonably safe move - and with several hundred people already staring at us, we weren't going to feel any more paranoid than we already were.

“At another stall we bought live spider crabs for our dinner, before leaving the market to continue the grand tour of Rason - with just one difference. From this point onwards, every time our group was walking on the street, sat in a park or being shown around some monument or other, there would be at least two fat joints being passed around. Later that day, we visited a traditional Korean pagoda situated in a nearby village. "This monument celebrates the fact that our dear leader Kim Jong-il stayed in this very building during one of his visits to Rason," our Korean guide was telling us. "Far out," someone mumbled in reply.

“ grown in large plantations before being handpicked and dried for consumption. Enjoyed primarily by the working class and service industries, this 'special plant' is praised for its therapeutic properties. It's often promoted as a natural and healthy way to relax, as well as soothing aches and pains resulting from hard physical work or active military service. The plant grows abundantly on the Korean peninsula, though most of the cannabis available to buy from local markets is formally cultivated in large plots. The painstaking procedure is conducted entirely by hand - creating countless new jobs in the process.

“Of course, cynics such as myself might also note that a population which spends half its time stoned is far less likely to rise up in revolt - and so it's possible to argue that the legal status of this drug serves political as well as cultural purposes. However, before you go thinking that Pyongyang is the next Amsterdam, it should be noted that the marijuana in North Korea is not very strong. This is cannabis which has been grown naturally in mountainside fields. While the flavour's all there, it'll take a few well-packed joints before one starts to feel anything approaching the effect typical of a Western crop. That said, at prices like these some might not consider this a problem.

Getting High with Some North Koreans and Russians

At a restaurant, Richter wrote, “we were rolling joint after joint, without tobacco, and the air in the room was thick with sweet, herbal fumes. In fact, coming back from a trip to the facilities I was almost unable to find my chair again - until my eyes grew accustomed to the severely reduced visibility. Once or twice the waitress came by to collect plates, and, coughing, made mock gestures of trying to sweep the clouds away with her hands. She didn't mind at all, but rather seemed perplexed how something so commonplace could cause such unprecedented excitement.. The waitress brought more beers, shots of the local rice wine known as Soju, and someone passed me a joint. [Source: Darmon Richter, The Bohemian Blog, March 16, 2016]

It wasn't until the next evening — the last night of our tour --- that Mr Kim,” our guide, “decided to join us for a smoke. We were sat around drinking beers in a hotel bar, just across the town square from our own lodgings. Here the waitresses were taking it in turns to sing for us, clutching cheap Chinese microphones as they performed note-perfect renditions of one (party-approved) karaoke classic after another. Many of these songs had once been written to celebrate the anniversary of a military victory... while each of the North Korean leaders is given their own orchestral theme (check out the Song of General Kim Jong-un, for example).

“It was a pop song called Whistle that really got stuck in my head though, as it seemed to be on constant cycle during our trip - playing in shops, restaurants and offices. That evening I'm sure we heard it at least half a dozen times.” Sitting “around a long wooden table, we were drinking beer with our Korean guides - who up until this point had eschewed the weed.

They seemed to be ever-so-slightly uncomfortable with our discovery of their special plant; no doubt aware of its legal status in our own countries, it was their job to make sure we saw a positive representation of the DPRK... I sat next to Mr Kim, who, dressed in his usual dark suit and glasses, looked every part the intelligence officer. He was snacking on strips of dried fish to accompany his beer, and he offered me some. By way of a polite gesture I offered him a joint in return, very much expecting him to refuse it. Instead he smiled, winked, and put his arm round my shoulder as he started puffing away on the fat paper cone.

“Things got even more bizarre when the Russians arrived - a group of dock workers from the Vladivostok region, currently on leave in Rason and keen to get some alcohol inside them. One of my last memories of the evening is of knocking back large tumblers of Korean vodka with a walking stereotype of a man; he had the arms and chest of a bear, a square head topped with a white crew cut and a well manicured 'Uncle Joe' moustache... as well as a superhuman thirst for vodka.”

Methamphetamine Use in North Korea

▪Methamphetamine is a synthetic drug made from chemicals such as ephedrine and used as a stimulant. It was first developed in Japan in the late 19th century. Mike Ives wrote in the New York Times: “Methamphetamine was introduced to the Korean Peninsula during the Japanese colonial period, in the early 20th century, and defectors have reported that the North Korean military provided methamphetamine to its soldiers in the years after World War II.Since the 1970s, many North Korean diplomats have been arrested abroad for drug smuggling. [Source: Mike Ives, New York Times. February 12, 2019]

“In the 1990s, the North’s cash-poor government began manufacturing meth for export, about two decades after it began sponsoring local opium cultivation and the production of opiates, according to a 2014 study by Sheena Chestnut Greitens, a University of Missouri political scientist. Finished meth was typically sent across the northern border into China, or handed off at sea to criminal organizations like Chinese triads or the Japanese yakuza.

Barbara Demick wrote in theLos Angeles Times: “Through the 1990s, the North Korean government ran the production of opium, meth and other drugs for Office 39, a unit raising hard currency for late leader Kim Jong Il, according to narcotics investigators. But the North Korean government has largely gone out of the drug business, according to the U.S. State Department's 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 27, 2014]

“When the North Korean government controlled the business, the drugs were strictly for export. Privatization made the drugs more widely available within North Korea. North Koreans say meth first appeared on the streets around 2005 and that it came from Hamhung, the onetime center of the nation's pharmaceutical and chemical industry, and thus a city filled with unemployed scientists and technicians. The industry then spread to Chongjin and the capital, Pyongyang. "North Korean people learn fast to reuse their skills," said Kim Yong Chol, 58, a truck driver who fled North Korea in August.

“Meth was ideal for budding North Korean entrepreneurs because it could be cooked in small "kitchen laboratories," with chemical precursors readily available across the border in China, which has laxer control than many other countries. The finished product finds its way back across the border, carried by smugglers who also traffic in cellphones, DVDs and cash.”

Ives wrote in the New York Times: “Around the mid-2000s, meth production that was “clearly sponsored and controlled” by the government began to decline,” the 2014 University of Missouri study said. “That left a surplus of people with the skills to manufacture meth, many of whom created small-scale meth labs and began selling to the local market.”

Meth Offered as Casually as a Cup of Tea: Los Angeles Times

Methamphetamines — known as meth, crystal meth and ice in the West — is called “pingdu” in North Korea, a Korean transliteration of the Chinese word for “ice drug”. A powerful stimulant, it can be snorted or inhaled, injected, or taken in a pill form. Users gain a sense of euphoria, increased energy and a suppressed appetite. The effects can last up to 12 hours.

By the 2010s, it became so widely used among ordinary North Koreans it was offered as a form of hospitality to house guest and students sniffed the drug to help them her study better. Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “North Koreans say there is little stigma attached to meth use. Some take it to treat colds or boost their energy; students take it to work late. The drug also helps curb appetites in a country where food is scarce. It is offered up as casually as a cup of tea, North Koreans say. "If you go to somebody's house it is a polite way to greet somebody by offering them a sniff," said Lee Saera, 43, of Hoeryong, also interviewed in China. "It is like drinking coffee when you're sleepy, but ice is so much better." [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 27, 2014]

Justin Hastings, a political scientist at the University of Sydney in Australia who has studied North Korean drug trafficking networks, told the New York Times: While meth is illegal in North Korea, like other private economic activities there, the drug has effectively become legal “because officials take bribes to look the other way, and because the state indirectly benefits from a food chain of bribes that goes all the way to the top. Over time, this has resulted in a culture where people are willing to take risks to make money, and official state prohibition has little meaning,” Mr. Hastings said. [Source: Mike Ives, New York Times. February 12, 2019]

“Greg Scarlatoiu, the executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, a Washington think tank, said that the regime of Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader, was currently focusing all its resources on priorities such as developing missiles and giving domestic elites access to luxury goods. “For as long as drug use does not pose a challenge to the regime, but instead dulls the wills and minds of the North Korean people, the government tacitly allows it to go on, despite the tremendous mental and physical health challenges it creates,” Mr. Scarlatoiu said.

Mike Ives wrote in the New York Times:“Amid a chronic lack of health care supplies and medical treatments in North Korea, many people take opiates and amphetamine-type stimulants as perceived medicinal alternatives, Ms. Greitens, the political scientist, said. “Methamphetamine is highly addictive, so it’s easy for casual users to develop more dependence and addiction over relatively short amounts of time,” she said. Andrei Lankov, an expert on the North at Kookmin University in Seoul, South Korea, who directs the news site NK News, said that there were government propaganda posters about drug use displayed inside North Korea. “They basically did not say, ‘Drugs are bad for you,’” he said of the posters. “They basically said, ‘Drugs are bad for the country.’”

“The North Korean government has long denied that its citizens use or produce methamphetamine. “The illegal use, trafficking and production of drugs which reduce human being into mental cripples do not exist in the D.P.R.K.,” the North’s state-run news agency said in 2013, referring to the initials of the country’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Meth: North Korea’s Trendiest Lunar New Year’s Gift: New York Times

Mike Ives wrote in the New York Times: “Like many across East Asia, North Koreans have been exchanging presents this month to celebrate the Lunar New Year. But rather than tea, sweets or clothing, some in this impoverished, isolated country are giving the gift of crystal meth. “The gifting and use of methamphetamine, a powerful stimulant that has been blamed in health and addiction crises around the world, is said to be a well-established custom in North Korea. [Source: Mike Ives, New York Times. February 12, 2019]

“Users are said to inject or snort the drug as casually as they might smoke a cigarette, with little awareness of its addictive qualities or destructive effects. “Meth, until recently, has been largely seen inside North Korea as a kind of very powerful energy drug — something like Red Bull, amplified,” said Lankov That misconception, he said, highlighted a “significant underestimation” within the country of the general risks of drug abuse.

“The drug’s popularity in North Korea as a Lunar New Year gift was first reported” in February 2019 “by Radio Free Asia, a United States government-funded news outlet. Radio Free Asia quoted several anonymous sources as saying that the custom was especially popular among the country’s young people.

“The Radio Free Asia report could not be independently verified. But experts say the custom of gifting crystal meth in North Korea is essentially an open secret. Teodora Gyupchanova, a researcher at the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights in Seoul, said that many defectors interviewed by the center in 2016 spoke of crystal meth as a popular gift for birthdays, graduations and “holidays such as the Lunar New Year.” Mr. Lankov, of NK News, said stories of crystal meth being given as a present were very common when he and a co-author conducted interviews with defectors for a 2013 study on North Korean drug use. He added that defectors had made fewer references to crystal meth in the years since, possibly indicating a decline in overall use.

North Korea Workers Fed Meth to “Speed up Skyscraper Project”

In 2016, there were reports that workers in Pyongyang were being given methamphetamine, to speed up construction of a skyscraper there. James Rothwell wrote in The Telegraph: “North Korean workers are being given a methamphetamine-based drug in the hope it will speed up a major construction project, according to reports. Project managers in the city's capital of Pyongyang are said to be under so much pressure to finish the job on time that they have resorted to openly providing builders with the drug. Hundreds of thousands of North Korean citizens have been roped in to finish the project, which consists of a 70-floor skyscraper and more than 60 apartment blocks. [Source: James Rothwell, The Telegraph, August 10. 2016]

“It was approved” early in 2016 “by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in defiance of tough sanctions placed on the hermit state over its nuclear weapons tests. “Project managers are now openly providing drugs to construction workers so that they will work faster,” a construction source in Pyongyang told Radio Free Asia. "[They] are undergoing terrible sufferings in their work."

“Human rights workers in Asia said the working conditions amounted to slave labour and urged the UN to take further action against Kim Jong-un. Phil Robertson, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said: “It’s going to be hard to verify that this is happening, but if it is confirmed then we utterly condemned it. “The real issue here is slave labour, and our immediate reaction to this was that if they want faster workers why not actually pay them, instead of resorting to giving them drugs? “The North Korean government wants to finish these buildings to somehow prove that they are a developed country. But this kind of forced labour has been unilaterally condemned by the international community." Mr Robertson added: "It is a throwback to the Second World War when governments regularly resorted to forcing labour of their citizens."

Selling Meth in North Korea

On a North Korean defector and former meth dealer she met in Yanji, China, Barbara Demick, wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “After the North Korean coal mine where she worked stopped paying salaries, Park Kyung Ok tried her hand at business. Buttons and zippers, candy and dried squid, fabric, plastic tarpaulins, men's suits and cigarettes. "I sold just about everything," said Park, 44. But it wasn't until she started hawking methamphetamine in 2007, she said, that she was able to earn a living. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 27, 2014]

“Park, a bantam-size woman who tittered nervously when recounting her own audacity, said she got into the meth business fresh from a divorce, while struggling to support her children and a disabled sister in Hoeryong, a hardscrabble mining town of 130,000 on the Chinese border. Park used to travel to another North Korean city, Chongjin, to buy meth that she would carry back hidden in a candy box. She would sell it behind the counter at a bicycle parts store at the public market. Hidden among the spare parts were metal plates, burners and other drug paraphernalia. She usually paid the equivalent of US$15 for a gram of high quality product, which she would then cut with cheaper meth and divide into 12 smaller portions to resell for a few dollars' profit. "It was just enough money that I could buy rice to eat and coal for heating," said Park, who was interviewed recently in China and, like most North Korean defectors, used an assumed name.

“She said she soured on the meth trade after a few years. In her inminban, the neighborhood committee by which North Korean society is organized, there were two or three people who were serious meth addicts. She was distraught when her teenage daughter admitted she sniffed meth to concentrate on her studies. "I was doing bad things because everybody else was doing bad things," Park said. She quit the meth trade in 2009, she said, and left North Korea the following year in hopes of rebuilding her life.”

North Korean Government Crackdown on Drugs

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “It is unclear how serious the North Korean government is about cracking down on the drug trade, or if it is merely trying to reassert control over a lucrative business. Lee, released in 2011 from a North Korean labor camp where she was sentenced for illegal border crossing, said that of 1,200 inmates, up to 40 percent had been arrested for trafficking meth. Park, the self-described former dealer from Hoeryong, said, "If you are caught once or twice, with only a small amount like me, you can get away with it if you have connections. But a third time, you will be in real trouble." [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 27, 2014]

Kang Mi Jin wrote in the Daily NK: “The blanket crackdowns, aimed at curtailing defections, illegal phone calls and human trafficking as well as drug smuggling, have adversely affected North Korean’s once-buoyant drug production market: domestic production has decreased significantly, as those in the industry look for other ways to make money. “Border control has become a lot tighter, making methamphetamine harder to get”, a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK. [Source: Kang Mi Jin for Daily NK, part of the North Korea network, The Guardian, June 29, 2015]

“Though the North Korean government has been widely accused of profiting from the production and smuggling of methamphetamine, a tough line is officially taken against drug abuse. In 2013, state news agency KCNA said unequivocally: “The illegal use, trafficking and production of drugs which reduce human beings into mental cripples do not exist in the DPRK.”

“Underneath this stark rhetoric, drug use is widespread – and production lucrative. Both are technically illegal, and for those unfortunate enough to be caught and convicted, punishments range from three to six month stints for minor first-time offences to the ever-present fear of execution in extreme cases. Many of those incarcerated in long-term reeducation or labor camps for drug crimes still pursue their addiction after release.

Government Drugs Crackdown Drugs Causes Drug Users to Migrate

Kang Mi Jin wrote in the Daily NK: “A crackdown on drugs in North Korea is sending many users across the country on long trips in pursuit of their means of pleasure. “Some residents with strong addictions are even traveling to areas where the drugs are produced. In the past, you could get meth in provincial black markets, but these days this has become more challenging, so people are seeking out places where it’s [still] being made.” [Source: Kang Mi Jin for Daily NK, part of the North Korea network, The Guardian, June 29, 2015]

“The lack of supply is sending addicts – often in groups – to the major crystal meth-producing cities of Hamhung and Sunchon, where supply is still reliable. “Currently, it’s very hard to find anyone in Hyesan [on the Chinese border] who smuggles or sells drugs. Some people who use meth will travel to Hamhung and then climb through the mountains on foot to get back to Hyesan”, the source told Daily NK, describing a 360-mile round journey. “She added, “State Security Department and Ministry of People’s Security officials have figured out that people head to meth-producing cities [to buy drugs] – so officials spend a lot of time on the streets.”

North Korean Authorities Interrogate Children to Weed Out Adult Drug Users

In 2014, Radio Free Asia reported: “North Korean authorities have stepped up their surveillance of citizens believed to be drug users by interrogating their children in schools, employing an old reviled method of weeding out drug users that had been discontinued by former leader Kim Jong Il, sources inside the country said. “Security officials in charge of schools are intimidating and interrogating elementary school students to investigate drug offenses, and their parents have been immensely shocked about it,” a source in South Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean Service. During one such period of intensive investigation of local drug use, a security official in Sapo district of Hamhung, capital of South Hamgyong province, drew pictures of paraphernalia for injecting drugs on the board in an elementary school and asked the seven-year-old students in the class what they were, the source said. [Source: Radio Free Asia, June 11, 2015]

“The security official from the country’s state security department, which is similar to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, recorded the names of all the students who responded with “konapal” or “koggiri,” Korean slang words for drug paraphernalia. He called them up one by one to ask them how they knew the names of the items, the source said. As the security official cajoled and threatened the students into giving him information, many of them admitted that their parents used drugs. Their parents were then arrested on drug offenses, the source said.

“The state security department’s use of children to crack down on adults has infuriated many citizens, sources said. “All residents in people’s units are forced to anonymously turn in materials relevant to drug offenses,” a source in North Hamgyong province told RFA. “Kim Jong Un’s regime has resurrected the method of investigation which [former leader] Kim Jong Il suspended because of worries about public disaffection.” “Now anonymous investigations are only focusing on drugs, but they likely can be extended later,” the source said. “North Korean residents are at odds, suspecting each other because of the anonymous investigations of drug offenses.’

“Authorities have ordered citizens to anonymously write the wrongdoings of their coworkers or members of people’s units, a state control mechanism that consists of 20-40 households, using various techniques to solicit information, including the intimidation and conciliation of children. During that time, only state security units organized by North Korean authorities applied such methods as a means of curbing social unrest and citizen antipathy towards the regime, sources said.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, Daily NK, NK News, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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