De­spite pledges for re­form, ad­dicts sent to prison in­stead of re­hab

The Myanmar Times - - News - THU THU AUNG thuthuaung@mm­

PO­LICE in Muse town­ship raided a drug user’s house and sent 11 ad­dicts to prison last week, claim­ing that the near­est re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion camp was too far to ar­range a trans­fer.

The puni­tive move goes against the Min­istry of Home Af­fairs’ re­peated pledges to tran­si­tion away from im­pris­on­ing drug users, and in­stead fo­cus on boost­ing re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ef­forts.

Act­ing on a tip-off, anti-drug po­lice cracked down on the house in Nan Sum vil­lage in north­ern Shan State on Septem­ber 3.

“We de­tained 11 drug users from the drug camp. Now they are be­ing de­tained in the Muse Town­ship Po­lice Sta­tion,” said Po­lice Sergeant Tin Oo from the anti-drug po­lice force.

Po­lice also con­fis­cated 65 pink am­phet­a­mine tablets and three grams of heroin, and seized 10 mo­tor­bikes. Charges have been filed un­der sec­tions 15, 19(a) and 20(a) of the Na­tional Drugs Law, for man­u­fac­tur­ing and dis­tribut­ing un­li­censed drugs. If con­victed, they face a max­i­mum com­bined sen­tence of eight years in prison.

Law­mak­ers and ad­vo­cacy groups have pushed for a re­vi­sion of Myan­mar’s dra­co­nian drug laws, which stip­u­late harsh sen­tences for nar­cotics use, posses­sion and sale, ar­gu­ing that re­pres­sion can fuel worse con­se­quences.

When asked by The Myan­mar Times why the 11 drug users were not en­rolled in a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram, an of­fi­cer from the Muse Po­lice Sta­tion laughed.

“How far from Muse is Lashio or Tachileik?” the of­fi­cer said. “We de­tained the drug users at the po­lice sta­tion be­cause the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tres are too far away.”

Drug users who reg­is­ter their ad­dic­tion with po­lice and health au­thor­i­ties are sup­posed to be able to avoid crim­i­nal pun­ish­ment through en­ter­ing manda­tory methadone ther­apy at 46 hos­pi­tals across the coun­try.

Po­lice Brigadier Gen­eral Kyaw Win, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the cen­tral com­mit­tee for drug abuse con­trol, said, “Ac­cord­ing to the new drug pol­icy, in­stead of im­pris­on­ing drug ad­dicts, they should be reg­is­tered and helped to quit from us­ing drugs again.

“We were try­ing to re­form the process and pol­icy for drug users,” he added.

While the new drug pol­icy was drafted un­der the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, it was not fi­nalised or ap­proved be­fore the trans­fer of power. The new par­lia­men­tary ses­sion has yet to dis­cuss or en­act the draft law.

But the cur­rent gov­ern­ment’s ap­proach has ap­peared to be al­most solely fo­cused on puni­tive crime re­duc­tion mea­sure.

Ac­cord­ing to fig­ures the Min­istry of Home Af­fairs pro­vided to Myan­mar Now, po­lice ar­rested 4761 peo­ple in 3197 drug-re­lated cases between April 1 and July 31. A to­tal of 7000 drug users have reg­is­tered at methadone clin­ics.

No of­fi­cial data on the num­ber of drug users in Myan­mar cur­rently ex­ists, although the UN Of­fice on Drugs and Crime is car­ry­ing out an ini­tial sur­vey. Myan­mar is the sec­ond-largest opium pro­ducer in the world and is also a key pro­ducer of metham­phetamine. By some es­ti­mates, there are as many 83,000 men who in­ject drugs na­tion­ally.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2015 re­port by the Transna­tional In­sti­tute on “The Cur­rent State of Coun­ternar­cotics Pol­icy and Drug Re­form De­bates in Myan­mar”, the cen­tral gov­ern­ment is un­able to pro­vide ef­fec­tive treat­ment for drug users, and fo­cuses in­stead on out­dated and in­ef­fec­tive tac­tics like ar­rest­ing drug users and erad­i­cat­ing poppy fields.

The re­port called on the gov­ern­ment to pri­ori­tise al­ter­na­tive de­vel­op­ment pro­grams that sup­port suf­fi­cient liveli­hood al­ter­na­tives to poppy grow­ing. Af­fected com­mu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially drug users and opium farm­ers, need to be in­volved in for­mu­lat­ing the drug pol­icy, the re­port said.

‘We de­tained the drug users at the po­lice sta­tion be­cause the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tres are too far away.’

Po­lice of­fi­cer in Muse

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