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Burma and Drugs: national problems, regional solutions


Xin Hui Chan
University of Oxford

The current transition in Burma presents opportunities and challenges, and nowhere more so than in the problems around drug production, consumption and the role of counterfeit medications in the healthcare system. Opium and methamphetamine production have risen in recent years, and drug education and prevention were virtually unknown under the military regime. Illicit drug production is a source of income to many in ethnic states who have few alternatives. Counterfeit drugs are killing those they purport to cure.

This panel will seek to explore all aspects of Burma’s drug production and counterfeit drug use from a comparative and trans-national perspective. Attention will be given to the various policy solutions sometimes advanced and variously tried both within Burma and amongst its neighbours: eradication, medical effects, treatment, prevention and education. It will seek to find models for dealing with the problem of counterfeit drugs in the healthcare system.


  • Has drug eradication worked in neighbouring countries? How do international obligations to eradication square with the search for effective solutions to the drug problem?
  • What are the medical effects of the counterfeit drugs in Burma?
  • What role can international actors play in developing a drugs education programme?
  • Can the Burmese healthcare system be resourced/enabled to deal more effectively with both drug addiction and counterfeit drugs?
  • Are there viable alternatives to drug production that can be developed for opium farmers?


Mathea Falco, Panel Moderator

Mathea Falco, a leading expert on drug abuse prevention and treatment, served as the first U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs during the Carter Administration (1977-81). She is President of Drug Strategies, a nonprofit research institute based in Washington, D.C., created with the support of major foundations in 1993 to identify and promote more effective approaches to substance abuse and international drug policy. A graduate of Yale Law School, she is also a Visiting Scholar at the Center for International Criminal Justice at the Harvard Law School. From 2003-2010, she was Associate Professor at the Weill Cornell Medical College Department of Public Health in New York and from 2005-2007, she was a Fellow at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. She has visited Burma many times.

Michael Marett-Crosby

Dr. Michael Marett-Crosby obtained an M.A. and D.Phil from Oxford University. Following his work as a pastoral counselor in academia and in the UK prison service as a counselor and educator, Michael became a full-time writer. He has published works of non-fiction and has won several short story prizes. He is the author of “The Conversion of England” (1998), “Doing Business with Benedict” (2002), and “Twenty-Five Astronomical Observations That Changed the World: And How To Make Them Yourself” (2013). Marett-Crosby serves as Director of the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Trust for Health and Education. He frequently travels to Burma to advance health and education projects in the country.

Sean Turnell

Sean Turnell has been a researcher of Burma’s economy for nearly twenty years. Formerly a Senior Analyst at the Reserve Bank of Australia, he is based at the Economics Department of Macquarie University in Sydney. He has been an advisor on Burma to the US State Department, USAID, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the World Bank, and many other international bodies. Turnell is an advisor to a number of key stakeholders in Burma, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD). The author of “Fiery Dragons: Banks, Moneylenders and Microfinance in Burma”, he is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Myanmar Development Resource Institute (MDRI). He has previously held fellowships at Cambridge University, Cornell University, Johns Hopkins, and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore.

Patrick Meehan

Patrick Meehan is a PhD candidate in the Department of Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.  His research interests are focused on the political economy of drugs and state formation in post-colonial Burma, specifically Shan State. He has been conducting field research in both Burma and on the Thai-Burma border since 2011. His publications include “Drugs, insurgency and state-building in Burma: Why the drugs trade is central to Burma’s changing political order”, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, (2011), 42:3 and “Fortifying or fragmenting the state? The political economy of the drug trade in Shan State, Myanmar, 1988-2012”, Critical Asian Studies, (forthcoming, 2014).

Myint Oo

Myint Oo has been a general medical practitioner practicing at his own clinic in Burma for over thirty years. He has published over 500 articles related to general practice, public health, human rights and health policy. A Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow in 2010, he is currently the vice-president of General Practitioners’ Society, and is working to set up a private college of General Practitioners for the improvement of primary care and medical education in Myanmar. Oo is the recipient of numerous other awards including a Hubert Humphrey Fellowship at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (2003-2004) and an IIE Alumni Impact award (2005) for pioneering a continuing medical education program in Burma.

James McTaggart

James McTaggart is an Educational Psychologist working in the Highlands of Scotland. Educated at Oxford University, McTaggart had a varied career including teaching before training as a psychologist at London Metropolitan and Dundee universities. He specializes in early child development, infant mental health and developmental trauma.  As part of the national rollout of Post School Psychological Services, McTaggart and the Highland Council Psychological Service have been working with key partners to improve transitions in Highland.