Section 44 to ease ya ba ban
Paiboon says social problems will lessen
The Justice Ministry will seek the use of Section 44 under the interim charter to remove methamphetamine, or <i>ya ba</i>, from the dangerous narcotics list to allow health authorities to make medical use of the substance.
Speaking at a meeting on drugs control, Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya said that though a bill is being reviewed to reform the law on drugs, which could allow the controlled use of methamphetamine, he can speed things up under the powerful Section 44.
He said once Section 44 is invoked by the prime minister to remove methamphetamine from the dangerous drugs list, health authorities can begin to use it for medical treatment.
Methamphetamine, also commonly known as speed, is often used to treat people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder by calming them down and helping them to maintain focus.
Gen Paiboon has been advocating "delisting" methamphetamine as part of wider efforts to tackle the narcotics trade and social problems associated with it.
However, he did not give any idea about how soon the government might move on invoking S44.
He stressed a need to bring down meth prices because once the drug loses its value, there will be no market for it. "If ya ba retains its current status, we can't do anything at all," he said.
Gen Paiboon said the bill will seek to distinguish drug abusers from drug traffickers. One of the challenges, he stressed, will be to come up with ways to offer help to drug patients.
"The most challenging aspect of the bill is how to sort them out -- users, traffickers and those who abuse and trade the drug. Concerns have also been raised on how the public can be sure that drug pushers will not be treated as patients [to escape punishment].
"If the public is assured the drug control system is effective and drug dealers will go to jail, it is possible that ya ba prices will drop and demand will fall,'' he said.
He said authorities are also studying the use of marijuana and krathom, which are both classified as Category 5 drugs under the Narcotics Act.
According to the Office of Narcotics Control Board, there are nearly two million users of methamphetamine in Thailand, with three to four billion pills circulating annually.
About 500 million pills are smuggled across the border from neighbouring countries with only about 20% confiscated.
Suggestions from the public health circle indicate that modafinil and armodafinil should be used as treatment for methamphetamine addiction.
These substances, which are inexpensive, are not addictive and can be used in harm reduction programmes.
Responding to the justice minister's remark, public health permanent secretary Sopon Mekthana said what happens next will depend on the government's drug policy.
He said the public health system cannot reach out to drug users largely because ya ba is classified as a dangerous narcotic drug. Drug users are afraid of penalties and reluctant to seek help or treatment.