It has recently been stated that Thailand has become the leading hub in the drug trade in the ASEAN region. ASEAN, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is a governmental organisation that includes 10 Southeast Asian Countries. The organisation was started in August 1967 by Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, later joined by Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. ASEAN was created in an attempt to work between the various countries to improve economic growth, protect their societal values, work on regional peace and stability, and to make a platform where these countries could openly discuss disagreements peacefully.
One of the main points of cooperation between the ASEAN countries is their fight on drugs in ASEAN, and in 1976 they adopted the ASEAN Declaration of Principles to Combat the Use of Narcotic Drugs. In 1997, in a meeting between ASEAN Drug Experts, it was declared that the region would strive to be drug-free by 2020. This date was then brought forward in 2012 to being drug free by 2015.
ASEAN members developed the ASEAN Senior Officials on Drug Matters, and they implemented a policy to combat drug usage, and attempt to bring it down to zero in 2015. Their policy works on 4 different levels as seen below:
- Education: Instruction and information about the purchase, sale and effects of drugs for all levels of society, from teachers and school children to police officers and military personnel.
- Treatment and Rehabilitation: Well structured treatment plans that cater for all levels of income.
- Enforcement: Strict training and implementation enforcement officers and laws to curb the production, distribution and usage of drugs.
- Research: Research and information gathering on the effects of drugs, the best treatment methods and the most effective policies
Drugs In Thailand
It is clear that ASEAN has missed their goal for a drug-free zone. And Thailand is apparently leading the way. For many, drugs in Thailand convey images of tourists at full moon parties or in the mountains smoking weed or taking magic mushrooms. But the reality of the drug problem in Thailand is much harsher. Drugs in Thailand have been an on-going and long-standing problem. Recently, Justice Minister General Paiboon Kumchaya announced that there are approximately 1.3 million drug addicts in the country, which accounts for around 2% of the population in Thailand.
Widely Used Drugs in Thailand
The drug in Thailand that is most widely used is locally known as yaba, and they are pills that contain a mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine. Literally translated, the word yaba means madness drug, and this is because of the side effects of the drug that include aggression, convulsions, tremors and paranoia. The drug is most often taken in a tablet form or injected in its pure form, which is known as “ice”.
These drugs in Thailand are usually imported across the border from Myanmar, and the high production is a result of the political conflict and instability in the region, with rebel factions selling yaba as a means to buy weapons. The borders are long, and hard to fully patrol, making it relatively easy for the drugs to be smuggled into the country.
In the recent 44th illicit-drug incineration ceremony, 7 tonnes of drugs were burnt, including 19 million yaba pills worth about 5.8 Billion Thai Baht (180 million USD) and 318 kilograms of “ice”.
How is Thailand Fighting Drug Abuse?
In 2002, Thailand passed the Narcotics Rehabilitation Act, which enforces anyone caught using drugs in Thailand to enter drug rehab for addiction treatment. The aim of the act is to treat drug users as patients rather than criminals. The programme has come under criticism however, from various sources. Law enforcement officers often conduct raids throughout Thailand’s young neighbourhoods in the search for possible suspects. Any unfortunate person caught in the act is forced to admit that they are addicted to drugs, or – they must produce a urine sample.
Therefore, this method relies on a one-time urine test that doesn’t separate addicts from first time or occasional users. Thus, if someone is caught smoking marijuana for the first time, they will receive the same treatment sentencing as a full-blown heroin addict. It also fails to address what kind of drug the users may be addicted to, and therefore their treatment plan may not be suited to every individual’s best interests. But these individuals are also not getting harsh sentencing into jails, where it is unlikely that their habit would improve and their chances of getting clean in a drug rehab centre are much higher. The act aims to have 10% of all addicts fully kick their habit on release.
While the sentencing for the use of drugs in Thailand has softened to include this compulsory rehab treatment, the country’s laws on possession, trafficking and distribution of drugs is still extremely harsh. The death penalty is a very real possibility if you are caught with enough drugs in Thailand to be selling or distributing them.
Drug rehabilitation in Thailand ranges from the compulsory drug treatment at government centres which is often run by charities or religious organisations, to top of the range facilities that are frequented by wealthier individuals. The latter rehab centres are purely voluntarily based and not part of the Narcotics Rehabilitation Act.
Drug-Free in 2015?
Drugs in Thailand still remain a massive problem, but there are new steps and measures being implemented to try and stop this flow of drugs in and out of the country. Education is taking place in schools and other institutions and the government is trying to get families in the community to become involved in the war on drugs in Thailand. However, the drug trade is still going strong, and drastic steps are going to have to be taken in Thailand and surrounding countries for the ASEAN target of a drug free region in 2015 to succeed.