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