Push for Treatment-Oriented Drug Policy Continues

By Tin Htet Paing 10 April 2017

RANGOON — The Drug Policy Advocacy Group (DPAG) has stressed thorough implementation of a recent draft of updated narcotics legislation, emphasizing the need for better law enforcement and for greater socio-economic development affecting small-scale opium farmers.

Together with the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the DPAG hosted a panel discussion on Saturday in Rangoon, where its members and stakeholders exchanged views on how the new policy—which emphasizes the decriminalization of drugs—could be implemented.

Sai Sam Kham of the Metta Development Foundation, which has been working to address drug-related health issues and development in the country’s ethnic areas, said that it is crucial to get drug users and opium growers involved in the policy-making and the decision-making processes.

“When we talk about decriminalization, it has to strongly accompany [issues of] public health as well as development support,” he said at the panel discussion.

He also emphasized the need to change the public’s perception of drugs and to actively engage with local religious and faith institutions to improve their understanding of addiction.

“When the drug issue is discussed among the general public, a lot of people are taking a religious and moral stance in judging it,” he said, adding that this has proved “problematic.”

Burma’s existing 1993 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law prohibits anyone from planting poppy, coca, cannabis or any kind of plant from which drugs can be derived or extracted. It also criminalizes the possession and use of any drug with a maximum of five years imprisonment.

The new version of the legislation modifying the notorious 1993 law is in the public consultation stage before being discussed in the Parliament. The new law would ensure a treatment-oriented and rehabilitation approach to drug addiction, according to the current draft.

Dr. Nang Pann Ei Kham, the coordinator of DPAG, also highlighted the importance of helping poppy growers link with the international pharmaceutical industry to manufacture narcotic raw materials for medicines so that farmers can continue to earn a living.

“We have been brainwashed [into thinking] that drugs are bad,” she said. “But in fact, there are also examples in these communities that drugs have been used for their real medicinal purposes.”

The DPAG has been working to develop an advocacy platform for “non-punitive, evidence-based drug policy changes” in the country. The group was formed in 2014 by like-minded organizations and individuals, and supports a global campaign to rehabilitate and reintegrate drug users into society under the theme, “Support, Don’t Punish.”

The group networks with both domestic and international organizations, such as the National Drug Users Network Myanmar (NDNM), Myanmar Opium Farmers Forum (MOFF), Myanmar Anti-Narcotics Association (MANA), Medicins du Monde (MdM), Save the Children, Transnational Institute (TNI), HIV/AIDS Alliance and the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission.

Psychiatrists who attended the event also urged the government and policymakers to outsource the counseling treatment for drug users to private clinics, authorizing licenses so that government’s medical facilities do not become burdened by drug users seeking treatment.

Ruth Dreifuss, a commissioner of Global Commission on Drug Policy and a former President of Switzerland, also participated in the Saturday panel discussion, acknowledging Burma’s move toward a more treatment-oriented drug policy.

“A successful treatment is always a treatment [where] medical doctors and the patients agree about what the aim is of the treatment, [and] what the success is of the treatment,” she said at the event.