In this photograph, Army officers patrol close to Mong Pan village in Burma's Shan state. Far from the country's postcard-perfect pagodas and colonial relics, the remote mountain villages of Shan state do not appear on maps of Burma, also known as Myanmar, or in any guide books. In obscurity, they have been ground zero for Burma's drug trade which has thrived on poverty and corruption.
All photos taken Feb. 19-25, 2013 in Shan state, Burma
Burma's drug-producing hub is located in the vast, jungle-clad mountain region of northeastern Shan state, deep in a cease-fire zone that was closed to foreigners for decades. It's a land dotted with makeshift methamphetamine labs and tiny, poor villages where growing opium is the only real industry.
The village of Thon Min Yar, in southern Shan state, is made up of 73 bamboo huts with no electricity or running water. Its people have no access to health care, no job prospects, not enough food and no aspirations other than survival. Toddlers and teens get a one-sized-fits-all education in a one-room schoolhouse.
Ywar Thar Yar, which means Beautiful View Village, borders the dense jungle mountains where opium farmers cultivate their crops.
Burma's government says it wants farmers to grow corn and other legal crops, but many poppy farmers say the terrible mountain roads mean getting legal crops to market is almost impossible.
Burma's poppy cultivation has more than doubled since 2006, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. The country produced an estimated 690 tons of opium in 2012, a 17 percent jump from the year before.
Opium farmers are not the people getting rich from the drug trade. They are among the poorest people in one of the world's least-developed countries. A roughly 15 percent opium tax is doled out to local authorities who turn a blind eye in exchange. Police control the towns, government soldiers patrol the roads and ethnic armies rule the mountains. All of them get a cut.
Most of Burma's drugs are trafficked through its porous 680-mile border with Thailand.
Earlier this month, Myanmar sent a high-level delegation to the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna for the first time to highlight the link between drugs, poverty and conflict, and to ask for financial help.