A draft amendment to a ministerial regulation reclassifying those caught in possession of more than one tablet of methamphetamine as drug dealers instead of just drug abusers is now in line to be submitted to the cabinet for approval, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said on Thursday.
The ministry's committee on drug addiction rehabilitation had on Wednesday approved the draft and submitted it to Mr Anutin for signing and forwarding to the cabinet.
Mr Anutin on Thursday played down concerns raised in some circles over the possibility the new regulation would adversely cause the number of drug suspects and convicts to rise rapidly and overcrowd detention facilities.
Not everyone found in possession of more than one methamphetamine tablet will be arrested and sent to jail, as law enforcement authorities will still be allowed to judge who is an addict and who is a dealer, said the minister.
A young drug smuggler, for instance, would not be treated by the police as a drug dealer under the newly amended regulation if he or she provides information leading to the arrest of people higher up the chain, he said.
These young drug people will be admitted into a drug rehabilitation programme instead.
He said the Department of Medical Services supports this proposed change, as it cited the findings from a study conducted in other countries, where the illicit drug trade had taken a significant hit after tougher regulations were adopted.
As for the burden of providing drug addict rehabilitation, which is expected to increase after this new regulation takes effect, the minister said it is the ministry's responsibility to raise its capacity to keep up with a rising number of drug addicts who require help.
Meanwhile, Dr Amporn Benjaponpitak, director-general of the Department of Mental Health, said that the department is also planning to train existing healthcare workers to prepare them to help psychiatrists with providing drug rehabilitation services to addicts.
"In preparation, 96 out of all 127 medical centres and provincial hospitals nationwide have opened a ward for patients with mental illnesses or drug addiction," Dr Amporn said.