North Korea has been hit by an epidemic of methamphetamine use, according to a new study based on interviews with North Koreans who defected to the South.

Some defectors have claimed that two-thirds of North Koreans have used methamphetamine, or 'ice', since it became more widely available within the state.

Professor Kim Seok-Hyang, a co-author of the report, has told Radio Australia's program the drug has become so easily accessible it can even be ordered as casually as an espresso in a coffee shop.

"It's very expensive, but still it's not so difficult to get methamphetamines through those restaurants anywhere," she said.

Professor Kim says the drug became more widely circulated within North Korea after the Chinese government banned illegal imports of the drug into the country.

"Since 2003, 2004, 2005, the Chinese government started to strictly ban ... methamphetamines from North Korea," she said.

"Those who were making money (from illegally exporting the drug), they don't know where to go, so they started to sell it...within North Korea.

"Since then many North Korean people [started using] methamphetamine."

Professor Kim says methamphetamine use is widespread amongst the law enforcement units in North Korea.

"When Kim Jong-un became the leader of North Korea it was banned by North Korean authorities, but the problem is that those policemen and other high ranking officials, they are the ones who are fond of methamphetamines," she said.

Professor Kim says many North Koreans started using methamphetamine for medical reasons but became addicted to the drug.

"At first most of them started to use methamphetamine as a medical cure," she said.

"The hospital medical system stopped (using it) for a long time...but once they get addicted to methamphetamine there's no way for them to get out of it."

According to Professor Kim, methamphetamine addicts in North Korea are desperate to access the drug regardless of the cost.

"Using methamphetamine does not mean they have enough money to dispose," she said.

"They put all the money they have in methamphetamine."


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