Crystal meth made in laboratories in North Korea is flooding the world's drugs market, with shipments ferried through China to distribute across the globe.
In the U.S. police officers have intercepted batches of the highly addictive drug, that were bound for New York after being produced in Kim Jong-un's Communist state.
Analysis of the highly potent drugs - which come in the form of ice-like crystals which are smoked, to provide a powerful and near-immediate hit - showed they were up to 99 per cent pure.
The drug, thrown in to the limelight by the hit U.S. drama series Breaking Bad. In the show, terminally-ill chemistry teacher Walter White turns into a drug baron to ensure his family's financial future.
North Korea is said to be in the grip of a crystal meth epidemic with the drug being produced on an industrial scale by corrupt officials in collusion with criminal gangs and the number of addicts spiralling.
Use of meth is reportedly so common in the shadowy communist state that offering some to house guests has been described as the equivalent of making them a cup of tea.
In some parts of North Korea up to 50 per cent of the population are reported to be hooked. Parents even offer it to children to help them concentrate on their studies.
As one of the few commodities easily available, it is used for everything from treating colds to curbing hunger pangs during times of food shortages. But few users realise the dangers or what the side-effects will be.
In an interview with the LA Times, one North Korean, Lee Saera, 43, of Hoeryong described how prevalent the drug has become.
She said: 'If you go to somebody's house it is a polite way to greet somebody by offering them a sniff. It is like drinking coffee when you're sleepy, but ice is so much better.'
Such is the explosion in the drug's popularity that a new word ‘munlan’ has sprung up to describe meth addicts.
Experts say the North Korean government reportedly began producing meth in the 1990s to provide desperately-needed hard currency for the ruling elite.
Then it was exported, mostly to China, with reports of North Korean diplomats being sent abroad with their bags stuffed full with meth.
Studies from the US and China found soaring levels of crystal meth addiction in border regions with North Korea.
As state-controlled production was curbed in the late 2000s the trade went underground with meth 'cook' criminals setting up small 'kitchen laboratories'.
The Sun reported that in 2012, police officers in the U.S. intercepted 30kg of the drug - with 99 per cent purity - that was destined for the streets of New York.
Another sting last year uncovered a plot involving 100kg of crystal meth. Two Thailand-based Britons have now been charged in New York with conspiracy to smuggle illegal drugs.
Now business is booming and as well as supplying the burgeoning domestic market, North Korean-produced meth is reportedly being exported to the West.
In North Korea drug use is widely tolerated. Cannabis is legal with many people growing it at home.
Opium paste is also widely available as a pain reliever.
Experts estimate up to 40 per cent of North Korea’s foreign earnings now come from illegal activities.
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