Cheaper than a coffee but powerful enough to keep him riding Bangkok’s streets without sleep, Soonthorn puts a flame to a methamphetamine tablet wrapped in foil and inhales the intoxicating vapours.

Thailand has long been a global gateway for exports of the drug, but the coronavirus pandemic’s sudden disruption of international transport has seen a surge in cut-price “yaba” tablets in the local market.

The drug keeps Soonthorn alert while he ferries passengers around the capital’s traffic-snarled boulevards on his motorbike.

On the days he works without it he feels like his “brain is missing something”, and at the height of his addiction he stole from his parents and former wives.

“I’d steal at every chance — watches, necklaces, rings… the drug was the first priority for me,” he says.

Meth prices have slumped around Soonthorn’s home in the Khlong Toei slum, where pills are sold for as little as 50 baht ($1.66) apiece.

The father-of-four has taken yaba for years, but traffickers are also chasing new addicts.

“Supply is bunched up… it’s not getting to the high value markets like Australia or Japan because logistics are screwed up,” said Jeremy Douglas of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

That was forcing traffickers in Thailand to look locally, he told AFP.

“There’s lots of users and potential users. You don’t just sell to meet existing demand. You create demand,” he added.

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