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Kill the demand and the drug trade will die

Publication Date : 06-02-2014

 

The untimely death of Oscar-winning American actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is a tragedy for his family, colleagues and fans. But it was a tragedy that could have been prevented.

Hoffman, 46, was found dead on Monday in his New York apartment, with a hypodermic needle reportedly hanging from his arm and packets of what is thought to be heroin nearby. After being off the drug for 23 years, he had admitted to relapsing in 2012 and entered rehab last year. Hoffman joined a tragically long line of entertainment figures killed by narcotics.

But despite the well-publicised risks - drug addiction can cut short lives and careers - the number of addicts is growing worldwide.

Many people regard them as victims. Others disagree, arguing that the addicts choose their path and are thus to blame for the consequences. Most cases of addiction begin with casual drug use at a young age. While most users abandon the habit when they get older, too many others quit, enjoy years of sobriety, and then suffer a relapse.

In Thailand, heroin has been overtaken as the narcotic of choice by methamphetamine - "speed", better known here as ya ba. The street name was supposedly coined by a former government minister tasked with suppressing illicit drug use, who reckoned changing the original "ya ma" (horse medicine) to ya ba (crazy drug) would discourage prospective users. But judging from the prevalence of meth in Thailand today, the name change was an utter failure.

A study by the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) estimated that 3.5 million Thais used illegal drugs in 2011. Most - 2.4 million - were regular marijuana users, while more than 900,000 were thought to be addicted to methamphetamine. On average, each month sees more than 10,000 people arrested on suspicion of involvement in the drug trade, says the ONCB. The latest figures - for October, November and December - show 14,621, 12,980 and 13,485 arrests respectively.

The fight against the drug trade is taking up a large share of the country's resources. Our soldiers and security forces regularly confront heavily armed smugglers on the border, with shoot-outs often turning deadly. But ya ba pills continue to flow into the country in the millions.

Several kingpins of the trade are serving long jail terms, but they still manage to run their business from behind bars thanks to mobile phones smuggled in to them with the help of corrupt officials. Meanwhile small-time peddlers will often return to the trade after serving time.

Solving the scourge of drug addiction might not come through harsher punishment, more arrests of dealers, or more rehabilitation for addicts. Certainly, law enforcement has a vital role to play in discouraging those involved in supplying narcotics. But we also need to make reductions on the demand side, particularly among young people. The best solution is to try to stop people using drugs in the first place.

All those involved - the authorities, parents, educators, the media, and community and religious leaders - have a part to play in this. So far, our efforts to prevent drug addiction have lacked a unified, cooperative and efficient plan. We need to remedy this by paying more attention to the demand that fuels the drug trade, focusing more resources and stakeholders in the fight to stop addiction taking a grip on the next generation of Thais.

 

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