December 05, 2023

Ice Age: Drugs in North Korea

The narcotics trade spreads, with consequences for the North and for China

In Kim Il Sung times, the DPRK was well-known for producing narcotics for export: It brought a significant amount of profit into the budget of the “people’s Korea.” One of the centers of drug production was the Hungnam pharmaceutical factory. The town of Hungnam was one of the centers of Korean science and technology, even from the colonial era. There is even an urban legend that the Japanese tried to manufacture an atomic bomb there but, of course, these rumors are completely groundless.

As one of the former residents of North Korea told me, sometime in the early 2000s the factory became undersupplied, while the workers were still require to fulfill the plan – and if they failed to do so, their salary was to be cut. Therefore the workers had to look for alternate sources of income. And within a few years, around 2004-2005 or so, Pyongyang decided to stop exporting the narcotics.