You know a village might have a drugs problem when signs at its rubbish bins say “meth lab waste should not be disposed of here”. That was the warning in Boshe, a fishing village in the southern province of Guangdong, caught in the spotlight when it emerged late last month as the epicentre of China’s synthetic drugs trade.
Plenty of towns and cities lay claim to being the sock, shoe or toothbrush ‘capitals’ of China. But although the good folk of Boshe may only have whispered it amongst themselves, there can’t have been many rivals to its own status as the metropolis of meth.
In fact, the 14,000-person village was said to have been supplying as much as a third of the methamphetamine on the Chinese market when Guangdong police carried out a massive dawn raid late last month. Security personnel stormed parts of the walled hamlet, arresting the Party chief, Cai Doingjia, and 180 others accused of manufacturing the stimulant.
“About 20% of the people in this village were involved, directly or indirectly with manufacturing meth,” Guo Shaobo, deputy chief of the Guangdong Public Security Bureau said in a press conference posted online.
Police had been alerted to the village’s alternative economy by its vast purchases of ephedra herb and over-the-counter-cold remedies – both of which can be used to make methamphetamine. Previous attempts to enter the village were thwarted by warnings from look-outs, who blocked approach roads with homemade beds of nails. Some of Boshe’s residents had homemade machine guns and grenades too, the police said.
Then, on December 29, the authorities made their move, sending in 3,000 armed police and paramilitaries. They first arrested kingpin Cai and then rounded up his henchmen, who even included the local police chief.
The raid, dubbed “Operation Thunder”, captured three tonnes of crystal meth, 23 tonnes of ingredients and 260 kilograms of ketamine.
According to a recent government report, methamphetamine is now the most widely used drug after heroin in China, although it has rapidly been closing the gap in usage terms.
As fans of the popular TV show Breaking Bad may know, methamphetamine can be manufactured in various ways, including the breakdown of cold remedies containing pseudoephedrine. However, the process is extremely energy hungry. All 77 meth labs in Boshe had their own generators so they wouldn’t cause power cuts. And production is also highly toxic – hence the signs telling people not to dispose of their drug discharge in the communal dustbins.
Few seem to have paid much heed to the warnings and the village’s land and water supply are now too polluted to be used for farming, local media has reported.
After an almighty high, Boshe seems to be heading for an epic comedown.
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