Half a million addicts have undergone voluntary rehabilitation over the past year, the most since the country started fighting drug use
With the aim of making Thailand a drug-free country, over 500,000 addicts have joined the government’s voluntary rehabilitation programme over the past year, but about 100,000 of them could not overcome the habit and need treatment again.
“This is the most drug addicts getting rehab treatment ever recorded in Thailand since we started fighting against drugs many years ago,” Permpong Chaovalit, deputy secretary-general of the Narcotics Control Board (NCB), said recently.
The drug problem, which had become more and more severe, threatening the security of people’s lives and property, prompted the NCB and four other agencies to team up and launch the rehabilitation programme last October.
The four partners are Metropolitan Police, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s Health Bureau, the Army and the NCB’s Bangkok division.
It was aimed at cutting the number of drug addicts nationwide by offering treatment on a voluntary basis without prosecution – unlike the previous practice of sending them to jail first.
The government has set the goal to get 400,000 drug abusers to attend the rehab programme this year. Now over 508,850 people dependent on several kinds of drugs such as methamphetamine (yaba) and crystal meth (ice) have attended the programme and were able to overcome addiction.
The Public Health Ministry estimates that about 1.3 million people became addicted to drugs and up to 60 per cent of them are in Greater Bangkok. This was why the government is making the problem part of the national agenda and will uphold the principle that drug abusers are patients in need of rehabilitation.
According to the NCB’s report, 319,911 drug abusers received treatment at hospitals and rehab centres in 2003, as the government had considered drug abusers as patients who need treatment.
A few years later, the number of drug abusers who received treatment had plummeted to only 40,000-60,000 per year from 2004-07 due to the government’s intense drug war. Most of the prisons nationwide were also full and there was no space for drug offenders.
To reduce drug demand, the NCB has set up 1,000 rehab centres in communities and district hospitals nationwide.
Drug abusers are required to apply to the programme at these centres. They will be screened and sent to the military-style rehab centres.
They will take 15-90 days to undergo rehab, depending on the length of their addiction. After the rehab programme is completed, the NCB will follow up four times a year to ensure that they do not return to the habit again.
The NCB found that only 20 per cent of rehabilitated drug addicts in the past 12 months had returned to drugs.
In Bangkok, about 5,000 drug addicts aged over 19 have received rehab treatment and 50 of them had returned to drugs. They returned to drugs because they returned to their previous life, Chakkree Premsmit, assistant director of the NCB’s Bangkok office, said.
Most people become drug addicts because of family problems. Some were abandoned by their parents, and some were forced to take drugs by friends. The drug control agency found that some people were addicted since they were 19.
“We have to find out how to prevent them from returning to drugs,” Chakree said. He has ordered agents to search for drug abuse in neighbourhoods across metropolitan areas and encourage families to persuade users to get drug rehab treatment.
“Most of them don’t want to enter a rehab programme because they’re afraid they’ll be recorded as a criminal,” he said.
The drug control agency has to convince drug abusers that they will be treated as a patient and not a wrongdoer because drug addiction is a brain disease that required behavioural changes, he said.
Niyom Termsrisuk, director of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s Narcotics Control Office, expressed concern that young drug abusers had increased by 60-70 per cent. He found the youngest drug abuser was nine years old, while the oldest was 60.
Dr Viroj Verachai, director of Thanyarak Institute, a treatment centre for drug dependence, said substance abuse treatment agencies should carefully check the health of all drug abusers, especially for congenital diseases before providing rehabilitation treatment or sending them to a rehab centre.
Some of them had committed suicide as they had suffered from depression and stress for a long time. They need special medication before getting substance abuse and behavioural treatment.
“We found that some of them had died from congenital disease during the rehabilitation programme as they were not screened for health problems,” he said.
Jarunee Siriphan, of Population Services International, said the lack of evaluation of the quality of services inside drug treatment centres and the porous and patchy follow-up system indicated that the government had applied a “war on drugs” strategy without concern for the welfare and quality of life of people who use drugs.