Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha meets relatives of victims of the mass shooting in Na Klang in Thailand's northeastern Nong Bua Lam Phu province on October 7, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

Bangkok: A day after a former cop involved with drugs went on a killing spree in Thailand that left two dozen pre-schoolers dead, calls are mounting for a national crackdown on the cartels that traffic billions of dollars of illicit substances a year.

Former premier Thaksin Shinawatra urged the government to “speed up the suppression of drugs, especially methamphetamine tablets.”

The former prime minister, who is in self-imposed exile, led a yearslong anti-drugs war in the early 2000s in which about 2,500 people were killed.

The perpetrator of Thursday’s massacre, Panya Kamrab, had been dismissed from the police force after being arrested for illegal possession of drugs in January. He was due to attend court on Friday. Thirty-six people died in the knife and gun attack that started at a daycare centre in Nong Bua Lamphu province, near the Laos border, before he took his own life.

Despite speculation that the 34-year-old had been under the influence of methamphetamine tablets, commonly known as meth, a blood test found no trace of the drug, police said.

Even as King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha led the nation in mourning - announcing plans to meet with the families of victims and ordering national flags to be flown at half mast - the political fallout from one of the worst mass shootings in Thailand’s recent history had begun.

Opposition parties led by Pheu Thai, which was affiliated with Thaksin, criticised the government’s lax anti-drug policies. The “Prayuth government’s failure to suppress drugs” resulted in “cheap prices, leading to this tragic incident,” Pheu Thai lawmaker Juthaporn Kateratorn said in a statement on Friday.

Party leader Cholnan Srikaew said that if voted to power, Pheu Thai would devise a “war on drugs” policy to “totally eradicate” drugs.

Thailand is the main conduit for drug trafficking along Southeast Asia’s vast Mekong river valley, with enforcement agencies often turning a blind eye. Southeast Asia’s organized crime economy, including the illicit trade in drugs and wildlife, was worth an estimated $130 billion in 2019, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes.