New drug bill 'discrimates against users'

New drug bill 'discrimates against users'

Groups urge govt to respect basic rights

Drug raids, seizures, arrests and jailing drug abusers are the main features in the 'new' Narcotics Control Act presented by the military regime. (File photo by Thiti Wannamontha)
Drug raids, seizures, arrests and jailing drug abusers are the main features in the 'new' Narcotics Control Act presented by the military regime. (File photo by Thiti Wannamontha)

Civic groups have called on the government to respect the rights of drug addicts who, despite attempts to treat them as patients, in their view still face discrimination in a bill on narcotics control.

The 183 sections of the draft law, which has been put up for public consultation, emphasise illegal drug crackdowns and prevention, the groups say.

Up to 62 sections concern penalties, leaving only 10%, or 19 sections, for issues related to treatment and rehabilitation for drug addicts, Foundation for Aids Rights (FAR) director Supatra Nacapew said Wednesday.

She said bill drafters may have "intended to forget the core principles of the treatment model that treat addicts in line with international standards," she told a public hearing, organised by the FAR.

The United Nations has urged governments to be more aware of the human dignity of drug addicts, "as they are not criminals".

They should receive equal treatment as other people and health issues should gain more weight in the battle against drugs, she said.

In the past 12 months Thailand has softened its traditionally punitive approach to the problem by focusing less on trying to achieve "targets" in drug crackdowns, and instead turning its interest to treating drug addicts as patients.

However, the government is finding it hard to adopt the new approach, Ms Supatra said.

About 80% of prisoners in the country have been convicted on drug charges, but most are "drug addicts, drug carriers and those who possess small amount of drugs," she said.

Authorities still struggle to put major drug masterminds behind bars.

Ms Supatra said the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB), the nation's main anti-drug agency, continues focus on how to hit the arrest targets it sets.

But if Thailand wants to follow modern approaches to drug problems, it needs to enforce laws that are more friendly to these wrongdoers.

She suggested the government cancel jail penalties for drug addicts and those with small amounts of drugs and instead use "administrative measures" to punish them.

Also, only health officials, not police, should be authorised to conduct urine tests on suspects, she said.

Further, the government's attempts to have drug addicts go through rehabilitation programmes should be improved to prevent officers from forcing them to do so, Ms Supatra said.

Social advocacy group Raks Thai Foundation representative Suphawan Ngoencharoen said some addicts rarely take drugs and can work normally if given a chance.

However, when they are detected as having drug substances in their urine, they have to be rehabilitated, which can eventually cause them to lose their jobs and put them at risk of being rejected by society.

The ONCB said 2.7 million people were using methamphetamine pill and marijuana last year. Up to 60% of them were aged between 15 and 29.

Meanwhile, police announced Wednesday they had arrested seven drug couriers and seized 2.8 million methamphetamine pills with a street value of over 900 million baht in Nan's Na Noi district.

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