Drug Laws Punish Users Rather Than Providing Rehabilitation

By Network Media Group
Friday, February 21, 2020

In Burma drug laws punish users and growers rather than helping them rehabilitate or find alternatives to growing opium, according to the Drug Policy Advocacy Group-Myanmar (DPAG), a network of harm reduction groups.

Dr Nang Pan Ei Khin, coordinator for DPAG, told NMG after the government enacted the National Drug Control Policy in 2018 it seemed like things were finally moving in the right direction.

“The National Drug Control Policy is focused on health and rehabilitation for drug addicts,” she said.

Yet, the following year the President’s Office created the Drug Activity Special Complaint Department, which provided rewards for information about drug users and producers in Myanmar.

“I think it deviates from the drug control policy,” Nang Pan Ei Khin said. Many illicit drug users were arrested and put in prison.

“The drug control policy and special complaint department are completely different,” Nang Pan Ei Khin told NMG.

The drug control policy provides protection, medical treatment—including methadone—and rehabilitation for users.

The special complaint department leads to the prosecution of regular drug users and small-scale poppy farmers that often receive disproportionately lengthy prison sentences for committing minor offences.

Sometimes the friends of drug users that aren’t even addicts are charged during raids, said Lum Khawng, who is a member of the Burma Drug Addict Network. Police even seize assets like their money, mobile phone or motorbike.

Lum Khawng said during a raid in Waingmaw, near Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, police charged a friend of an addict.

DPAG recently released its report ‘Broken Youthful Lives’ in Myitkyina, where illicit drug use among youth is rife.

In his New Year Speech, President Win Myint said the government will focus on busting big drug producers and provide medical treatment and rehabilitation for drug addicts.

Nang Pan Ei Khin said this hasn’t happened. Police still target the small users and producers.

“Users are arrested with very little drugs on hand, and the penalties for this are totally unfair,” Lum Khawng told NMG.

Anti-drug policies in Myanmar are ineffective if police don’t go after the large-scale producers, according to DPAG.