Widespread use of crypto, Telegram leads to surge in teen drug crimes in Korea

This summer, South Korean police busted an online drug cartel circulating methamphetamine and MDMA via an encrypted messaging app. The mastermind, as it turned out, was no Pablo Escobar but an 18-year old looking to earn some extra spending cash.

The case is part of a disturbing new trend — digital-savvy youth falling into illicit substance use within a country once considered to be “drug-free.”

Professor Chung Hee-sun of Sungkyunkwan University, who formerly headed the National Forensic Service, laments how easy it has become for young Koreans to get hold of drugs via the internet.

“They buy illegal drugs through the dark web and pay with bitcoin,” she said.

The number of drug offenders aged 18 and younger came to 450 last year, up 43.8 percent from a year earlier. From 2018 when the figure stood at 119, the 2021 data has nearly quadrupled, according to the latest data from the Supreme Prosecutors Office.

“It’s becoming easier for young Koreans to purchase and sell drugs,” Chung said.

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