North Korea: Illegal drugs 'treated as wonder cures'

North Koreans are taking illegal drugs to treat colds or fatigue, according to reports in the South.

Their use as "wonder cures" by the impoverished country's wealthier citizens is symptomatic of a recent increase in drug abuse, in a country where prostitution has also become widespread, according to the Seoul-based Chosun Ilbo. It comes on the back of a journal report suggesting an upsurge in methamphetamine - or speed - abuse across the country. Pyongyang has long been accused of manufacturing illegal drugs and selling them abroad to raise hard currency for its beleaguered economy, but refugee accounts of drug-taking within its borders are increasing.

Officially, drug abuse and prostitution don't exist in the closed communist country. But the Chosun Ilbo, a regular critic of the North's regime, quotes defectors as saying that young women - including relatively well-off university students - are turning to prostitution to make ends meet, or to buy luxury goods such as cosmetics and mobile phones. The South Korean paper also quotes sources within the North as saying condoms are now the top-selling products in one market near the Chinese border, where promiscuity is said to be on the rise.

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