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Abstract

As opium cultivation is increasingly controlled in the Golden Triangle, producers and traffickers have created new markets for methamphetamines (ATS) amongst highland and lowland populations. At the same time, evolving forms of drug abuse also reflect a larger order of social change that directly shapes the consumer market. This article explores how demand for methamphetamines in mainland Southeast Asia emerges in sync with changing value systems fostered by development trajectories within a globalized commodity culture. The primary focus is on Akha highlanders in northwestern Laos for whom dual processes of opium eradication and village relocation directly encourage the currently prominent uptake of ATS. As Akha move into the lowlands to engage in modern capitalist systems of production, increased methamphetamine use emerges as a means to facilitate a greater reliance on sedentization and petty commodity trade. Rather than the uptake of heroin that took place in neighbouring countries, the transition from opium to methamphetamines is a highly charged sign of new social and material relations adopted by the Lao Akha as they enter primitive forms of capital accumulation and wage-labour.