Experts call for better drugs policy
Forum discusses 'Chemsex Bangkok'
Experts have urged the government to focus on harm reduction, not punishment, in the battle to reduce illegal drug use, especially among a generation for whom an outright ban has proven impractical.
Co-hosted with Bangrak Hospital, Bangkok Rainbow held the "Chemsex Bangkok" seminar on Thursday to promote awareness of the prevalence of drug use for sexual purposes and propose workable policies promoting harm reduction, safe sex and health and psychology services for users.
Sgt Shaowpitch Techo, a psychologist from the 41st Bangkok Health Centre (Klong Toey), explained that the most suitable way to help users quit is by focusing on harm reduction, such as using substitute substances, changing the methods used to take them, or finding new activities to help users build new, healthier habits, coupled with regular psychological consultation.
"We have to differentiate between addicts and users who may not be addicted or are prone to the tragic outcomes often portrayed in the media, or by the state," he said.
People use drugs for many reasons, including helping them manage arduous jobs, stress relief, study, and even sex. It is down to society to fill in the gaps in these people's lives, and so the state should focus on solutions to the reasons that people find themselves in these predicaments rather than just punitive policies that fail to address the root causes."
Preechaya Nakfon, a lecturer from the political science department of Srinakarinwirot University, said the current mechanism that formally punishes drug users just places a self-fulfilling label on them.
"There has always been labelling and the stigmatisation of drug users in society. However, it is the state apparatus that associates drugs with violence most strongly," Ms Preechaya said.
She explained that even though the state may believe arrest and incarceration can stem the tide of illicit drug use, the violence associated with such tactics only further ostracise users and widen the gulf between them and the treatment they need.
She highlighted a number of studies that have found little benefit to authoritarian crackdowns and debunk the idea that society should aim to be drug-free.
"In Thailand, gambling, prostitution and the taking of drugs are categorized as crimes by the state, even though they are minor crimes. There are better ways to address these vices, whether through rehabilitation or legalisation and regulation," she said.
"But here, the state views them all as serious crimes and focuses only penalising drug users without ever concerning itself with more sophisticated ways to find more lasting solutions."
She added that the state should think of drug use in terms of social structure, behaviour and economics, rather than just criminality.