Prejudice and Self-Righteousness Fuels the ASEAN War on Drugs
The ASEAN foreign ministers at the 31st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in July 1988 signed the joint declaration for a Drug-Free ASEAN by 2020 that affirmed the association's commitment to eradicate illicit drug production, processing, trafficking and abuse by the year 2020 in Southeast Asia. Then at the 33rd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in July 2000, governments reiterated their concerns on the threat of drugs and agreed to advance the target year for realizing a Drug-Free ASEAN to 2015.
The cultivation of poppy (opium) is focused greatly on Myanmar, Lao and somewhat in Thailand, but beyond that it is merely isolated, a small time industry within the region. Regular raids by Thai authorities have proven effective in short-term reduction of poppy cultivation within their borders and according to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report of 2012, opium poppy cultivation has increased in Myanmar 21,600 hectares in 2006 to 51,000 hectares in 2012, while in Lao it increased from 1,500 hectares in 2007 to 6,800 hectares in 2012.
Amphetamine-Type Stimulants (ATS) has taken over the larger market, such as Ecstasy and Methamphetamine. Thais simply know ATS as Yaba, which is basically a poor man's drug due to the affordability and easy accessibility.
Drug culture of injecting heroin in Thailand and Malaysia has largely been replaced by smoking heroin, or completely by Ice or Erimin 5. But injecting heroin users in Malaysia are still ostracized and face almost daily harassment.
Despite the endorsement of the Malaysian Ministry of Health of the Needle Syringe Exchange Program (NSEP) its common to hear that drug users still throw away their NSEP kits during police raids. They do that for fear that the police will use the drugs and injecting equipment as evidence for prosecution. So what happened to inter-ministerial cooperation? Down the pisspot, I bet.
The process of decriminalization of drug use and hard reduction programs should be placed on the top agenda of governments, their regional groupings, and NGOs. Rather than focus on a traditional approach of prohibition, which has obviously failed in the past and made the Institutions richer with those scare-tactics, the administration of rehab centers and those outrageous, recycled "Say No to Drugs" campaigns, the human rights aspect of drug users are ignored. Even the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is keen to reduce the number of drug users in their city within three months. I wonder whether that would include waving a wand to make them invisible?
Many NGOs in the region are still under tremendous pressure from funding agencies and government to tow the line and continue implementing redundant programs of generating fear of the dangers of drugs. Often NGOs are expected to function as a mouth piece for public relation exercises, going through the motions of nodding their heads and scaring people into submission. So much for empowering people to make informed decisions. But then again, this is the norm of these NGOs, they depend completely on the funding feed of Institutions that care not of the humanity in the user.
Drug use is here to stay. It won't go away, nor will the drug user disappear in the cell of a congested government-managed rehabilitation center. A drug-free region is not only wishful thinking but also a delusional deviation from fundamental of human rights and basic tenants of compassion.
As long as the basic rights of drug users are ignored, stigmatization brings society further away from what we preach to others about human rights and acceptance. We despise the user for the 'evil of drugs' and we openly show contempt at them. We prevent their active participation in decision making particularly in building policies that would reduce harm. We become creatures of statistics and self-righteousness, caringless of the needs of others.