Fo­rum high­lights Myan­mar’s drug woes and ef­forts to re­form nar­cotics leg­is­la­tion

The Myanmar Times - - News - KHIN SU WAI khin­suwai@mm­times.com

PROPOSED changes to the Nar­cotic Drugs and Psy­chotropic Sub­stances Law would likely de­crim­i­nalise drug ad­dic­tion, send­ing drug users to re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tres in­stead of jail, a po­lice of­fi­cer said ear­lier this week.

Speak­ing at the Man­dalay Re­gion Civil So­ci­ety Or­gan­i­sa­tions Net­work Co­or­di­na­tion Fo­rum on Oc­to­ber 27, of­fi­cer U Hla Lwin told at­ten­dees that re­vi­sions to the law could re­set how the gov­ern­ment coun­ters the scourge of nar­cotics, with harm re­duc­tion mea­sures added as a new fo­cus.

Un­der the cur­rent law, “a drug user who fails to reg­is­ter at the place pre­scribed by the Min­istry of Health or at a med­i­cal cen­tre recog­nised by the gov­ern­ment for pur­pose or who fails to abide by the di­rec­tives is­sued by the Min­istry of Health for med­i­cal treat­ment” can be im­pris­oned for a min­i­mum of three years and a max­i­mum of five.

“If [the re­vised law] is passed in the hlut­taw, we don’t need to charge the youths, and would just hold them in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tres opened in re­gions and states,” U Hla Lwin said.

He noted that the law in its cur­rent form has been crit­i­cised as pre­scrib­ing harsh sen­tences for vi­o­la­tions of its pro­vi­sions.

Drug pro­duc­ers and traf­fick­ers can face the death penalty or life in prison un­der the law’s sec­tion 20, with a min­i­mum sen­tence of 15 years in prison. The law also crim­i­nalises farm­ers who mostly grow opium out of eco­nomic ne­ces­sity.

U Hla Lwin said drug abuse – and in par­tic­u­lar metham­phetamine use – had be­come a grow­ing prob­lem among the coun­try’s youth.

“As all of you know, meth pills can be seen ev­ery­where. The prac­tice has taken root in towns and vil­lages,” he said.

Fel­low po­lice of­fi­cer U Myint Aung said the grow­ing drug epi­demic was borne out by re­search from INGOs as well as a rise in the num­ber of drug seizures.

Man­dalay res­i­dent U Thein Aung said the rel­a­tive ease of ac­cess to metham­phetamine pills and their cheap­ness was fuelling ris­ing use.

“In Man­dalay, the price of a pill is K3000 [US$2.33] but in Lashio, the price is K500 to K1000,” he said.

Data on the num­ber of drug users in Myan­mar is dated. The gov­ern­ment’s 2006-10 “na­tional strate­gic plan” for HIV and AIDS es­ti­mated 60,000 to 90,000 in­ject­ing drug users in Myan­mar. The UN Of­fice on Drugs and Crime es­ti­mated that there were 300,000 users in 2008. How­ever a 2006 re­port by TNI cites in­ter­na­tional NGOs as es­ti­mat­ing the num­ber of drug users at be­tween 300,000 and 500,000, in­clud­ing an es­ti­mated 150,000 to 250,000 in­ject­ing drug users.

Dr Nanda Myo Aung Wan, project man­ager for Yangon Psy­chi­atric Hospi­tal’s Drug De­pen­dence Treat­ment and Re­search Unit, told The Myan­mar Times new data was ex­pected to be re­leased next year.

Sai Bo Bo, a Man­dalay res­i­dent and user of metham­phetamine pills since 2006, es­ti­mated that as many as seven in 10 young peo­ple took the pills.

The gov­ern­ment made a rampedup war on drugs part of its “100 days” ini­tia­tives. At a press con­fer­ence in Au­gust, the Min­istry of Home Af­fairs an­nounced that it had made 4349 ar­rests in 2799 drug cases as part of that crack­down.

UNODC of­fi­cials at a fo­rum in June voiced sup­port for drug law re­form, but stressed that changes should in­clude mea­sures to more ef­fec­tively tar­get traf­fick­ers and or­gan­ised crime net­works.

“Look at the ar­rests tak­ing place [in Myan­mar],” Jeremy Dou­glas, UNODC re­gional rep­re­sen­ta­tive for South­east Asia and the Pa­cific, said at the time. “It’s the truck driv­ers, the couri­ers, the rel­a­tively easy [tar­gets].

“That’s all fine but it’s dis­pro­por­tion­ate. Myan­mar needs to con­cen­trate on those run­ning the busi­nesses … those mak­ing all the money.”

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