Criminal networks in south-east Asia are trafficking vast quantities of methamphetamine into nations such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, which together account for annual ice imports worth between $US30.3 and $US61.4 billion ($43 and $87 billion), the UN says.
The figures, described as "staggering" and "unprecedented", are revealed in the latest report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which is examining the growth and impact of transnational organised crime in south-east Asia.
The one-in-five-year analysis highlights a decreased demand for heroin amid rapid growth in the manufacture of both crystalline and tablet methamphetamine, with at least 120 tonnes seized in the region last year, a quantity the agency declared "unimaginable a decade ago".
"Australia should be very concerned. The production of meth in the Golden Triangle is literally off the charts, with seizure records being broken every year, and yet no impact on the market," UN regional representative for south-east Asia and the Pacific Jeremy Douglas said.
"Organised crime don't care if they lose tonnes as they can simply replace it; the profits are enormous. And all signs are that production will continue to expand unless the conditions that have contributed to the situation are addressed," Mr Douglas said.
He added that, while Australia uses heroin, "it is really a meth market".
This week, NSW Police allegedly discovered more than 100 kilograms of ice in the tray of a Toyota Hilux ute in the driveway of a four-bedroom house in south-east Sydney.
Detective Chief Inspector Jason Smith said on Wednesday the demand for ice was "insatiable".
But the Sydney seizure paled in comparison to that made by Australian Border Force officers in Melbourne last month when they detected almost 1.6 tonnes of ice hidden in stereo speakers originating from Bangkok.
It is the largest ice consignment seized in Australia.
The steady flow of ice into Australia and neighbouring countries is evidence of south-east Asia's growing organised crime problem, Mr Douglas said.
"When it comes to crystal meth and the expanding market in Australia and south-east Asia, it is really obvious that there needs to be a stronger focus on prevention, treatment and minimising harms," he said.
"While Australia has invested a lot in demand reduction efforts domestically, the region has not, which is part of the problem. The response is disjointed and unbalanced, which only benefits organised crime."
As recently as 2015, China and Hong Kong were the top two embarkation points for methamphetamine trafficked to Australia.
But crackdowns by Chinese law enforcement have seen drug manufacturers shift their operations, making Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia among the top departure points for ice seized at the Australian border.
The UN agency said that Myanmar's growth as a manufacturing hub was largely thanks to a steady Chinese supply of precursor chemicals, such as caffeine, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.
Drug trafficking syndicates are advantaged by the region's role as the global epicentre for pharmaceutical and chemical production, meaning illicit imports of chemicals and laboratory equipment can occur more easily between countries.
"The production of plant-based drugs such as heroin involve the extraction of active ingredients, which must be cultivated in certain climatic conditions to grow ... the manufacture of synthetic drugs is not geographically constrained," the report said.
While heroin remains the second most frequently trafficked drug in south-east Asia, demand has decreased in recent years.
It is estimated there are more than 3 million heroin users in East Asia, south-east Asia, Australia and New Zealand, consuming about $US8.7 to $US10.3 billion worth of heroin annually, a fraction of the "meth market".
The report found some of the strongest criminal links to Australia and New Zealand were through outlaw motorcycle gangs, which have established chapters in south-east Asia to organise trafficking of methamphetamine and other precursor chemicals.
In June 2017, Australian authorities seized almost 1.5 tonnes of ephedrine trafficked from Guangdong province, China, with members of the Rebels motorcycle gang among 14 arrested.
The UN expects outlaw motorcycle gangs "may expand their involvement in the methamphetamine trade from south-east Asia to Australia, considering the low price per kilogram [in the region]".
Mr Douglas said that, while the Australian Federal Police had good relations in the region, including operational success with countries such as Thailand and Malaysia, the situation was "pretty dire".
"Leadership of the wider Asia Pacific region need to pull together to address organised crime which are taking advantage of the lack of a coherent response," he said.
"[Australia] really needs to consider how it can contribute to helping turn the situation around ... helping to address serious governance problems, porous borders, poor co-operation and the steady flow of precursors."
An AFP spokesman said counter narcotics disruption strategies in conjunction with the Myanmar Police Force, directly targeted large methamphetamine and clandestine laboratories of "direct relevance to Australia."
In June, the Myanmar destroyed 22 tonnes of various narcotics seized in the previous 12 months, and destroyed more than 370 tonnes of various chemicals used in the manufacture of narcotics.
- SMH/The Age