THE government’s decision to decriminalise drug addicts is timely. Drug addicts should no longer be seen as criminals but as patients who need to be treated and rehabilitated.
The time has also come for the government to set up a national advisory council to review the existing drug policies and bring about necessary reforms and changes in order to make them more relevant.
Once it is set up, the council should do a thorough analysis on the failure of various programmes and initiatives to tackle the issue that had always focused on arresting and punishing drug addicts all these years. To do this, it would need support and input from the relevant experts and stakeholders.
The council should also study new issues including the influx of new synthetic drugs and find ways to tackle them, as syndicates and drug pushers are now targeting the young generation including students.
All parties must support the decision made by the Home Ministry and Health Ministry to include a treatment programme under the decriminalisation plan, which would boost the roles of family members and the community.
It was reported that both ministries would also cooperate in a “harm-reduction” programme through therapy and joint management of dual diagnosis cases by the Narcotics Addiction Rehabilitation Centre (Puspen) in Tampoi and Permai Hospital in Johor. This could help reduce the number of prisoners since most of the 70,000 convicts in Malaysia are drug addicts.
It was also reported that the government spent over half a billion ringgit to jail minor drug offenders in 2017 and over RM200mil more to arrest and house addicts in state-run rehabilitation centres in the same year. The staggering cost and high number of drug addicts show that we have failed in our war, which has spanned decades, against abuse of drugs.
Based on data from the National Anti-Drug Agency (AADK), the total number of drug addicts detected nationwide has decreased by 16.0% in 2017 from 2016. The number of new addicts and recurring addicts detected in 2017 also decreased by 19.6% and 5.5% respectively. Despite the decline, the problem is still formidable and far too serious to be disregarded.
In 2016, statistics showed that the number of addicts had increased by 14% from 2015 while 58% of convicts in jail were there for drug-related crimes.
What is of utmost concern is the involvement of youths, including teenage school students, in drugs and drug-related offences.
TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE
Malaysia Crime Prevention Foundation