In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (center) visits a pharmacy in Pyongyang, North Korea, May 15, 2022.
Photo: Korean Central News Agency / Korean News Service via AP, file
North Korean authorities are cracking down on private drug sales as the nation’s drug shortage continues to worsen. With authorities recently confiscating all stockpiles of medicines from people caught selling medicines in markets or from home without permission, it is becoming increasingly difficult for many North Koreans to buy emergency medicines.
According to multiple Daily NK sources in North Korea, the “Joint Command for Non-Socialist and Anti-Socialist Behavior” has been suppressing private drug sales since early July.
Officially, North Korea bans ordinary people from selling drugs, but with so many people trying to get drugs from the markets, even the market management offices turn a blind eye to people dodging repression to sell drugs.
Lately, however, the unified command has been conducting ambushes in front of houses where drugs are sold, breaking in as soon as they see a deal gone awry and confiscating the stash to send to hospitals or the military.
North Korea’s intense crackdown on private drug sales appears to be aimed at letting North Koreans feel the so-called “love of the people” of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Kim recently donated medicine from his family to the people of South Hwanghae province following a surge in waterborne diseases in the region, asking that they be “quickly delivered to aid in the medical relief effort.”
Following Kim’s example, other key aides and cadres of the Central Committee also donated drugs, including Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of the North Korean leader, and Cho Yong-won, the organizing secretary of the ruling party and head of the organization and leadership department of the party. Even provincial cadres have recently begun to take part in the drug fundraiser that Kim has begun.
However, drug prices are skyrocketing in North Korea due to a dire shortage of medicines. In fact, a pack of antibiotics costs more than 20,000 KRW, while antipyretics such as aspirin are hard to come by.
As the shortage of medicines became even greater, market vendors also began selling medicines at prices ranging from 2,000 to 3,000 won per pill rather than selling them in boxes or doses.
In the wake of public outcry over these costly covert deals, North Korean authorities have cracked down on drug sales by private sellers.
Particularly as drug prices have risen more than tenfold since the border was closed, North Korea recently announced a ceiling on drug prices in every region.
According to a source in North Hamgyong Province, the order set price caps for a list of medical supplies, such as 250 won for butterfly needles, 3,102 won for chloramphenicol (an antibiotic used to treat eye infections), 245 won for disposable syringes, 3,870 won. out. won for sodium lactate solution and 615 won for the antibiotic gentamicin, which is used to treat diarrhea and bacterial infections.
These prices are similar to those set by the state. However, the source said private drug dealers would never be able to sell their goods at those prices because they buy their drugs at much higher wholesale prices.
In other words, the price ceilings presented by the North Korean government are nothing more than a farce that demonstrates that the state controls the sale of drugs. The authorities will face difficulties in implementing these ceilings in reality.
“Because supplies are sorely lacking, it appears that the authorities have stepped up their crackdown to aid in the supply of drugs through official channels. At the same time, pharmacies [in major cities] there are no drugs in stock, so when will they appear in a handful of pharmacies in each region?” the source said.
They added: “It will be difficult to completely crack down on private drug dealers because people can easily buy different types of drugs by visiting private drug dealers’ houses near markets or hospitals, even if they are expensive.”
This article first appeared on daily NK, who contacts several sources inside and outside North Korea to verify information. The diplomat was unable to independently verify the allegations.