The forgotten success story: Japan and the methamphetamine problem

Journal Article August, 2015, Japan Forum

This paper examines Japan’s policy towards methamphetamine (Japanese: hiropon). Opium has been used in Japan for medicinal purposes since 1722. However, it was strictly controlled. The result was that drug abuse was minuscule. This changed with the introduction of methamphetamine. During the Second World War hiropon was given by the military to fighter pilots and the signal corps in order to help them stay awake and alert. After 1945, the large military stockpiles of methamphetamine found their way onto the black market. With society in chaos, drug abuse spread rapidly and a hiropon epidemic emerged. The introduction of a comprehensive anti-drug package in the mid- 1950s, including stricter laws, resulted in that abuse having been almost totally eradicated by 1957. Around 1970 a new wave of abuse (‘the second epidemic’) began. It peaked around 1985, after which abuse tampered off, albeit slowly. A temporary increase in the mid-1990s made Japanese authorities declare the emergence of ‘the third epidemic’ that is still said to be ongoing. Official statistics show, however, that Japan has not seen any such epidemic. In comparison with most other Western countries, methamphetamine abuse in Japan is modest.