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Jade and Heroin Trades Overlap in Myanmar, World's Major Opium Producer


April 1993

Myanmar, formerly Burma, remains the world's largest opium producer and is seeing an intermingling of the drug and jade trades, according to a recent report (Mary Kay Magistad, "Jaded In Myanmar," Washington Post, 3/15/93, A14).

Myanmar is the only source of gem quality jade, although a lesser quality stone is mined elsewhere. The jade trade has traditionally been a government monopoly, but smugglers and insurgents conduct a huge, semi-sanctioned trade in the stone, which is technically illegal within Myanmar, but legal outside the country. Some heroin smugglers are using hollowed out jade boulders to transport the drug. The underground economy was discussed with Mary Kay Magistad by author Bertil Lintner, who spent 18 months with Burmese insurgents as research for a book on the topic.

Myanmar's opium production has boomed since a junta seized power in September 1988, and is now estimated at 2300 tons yearly by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Heroin and jade each generate hundreds of millions of dollars yearly in illicit revenue, according to Lintner.