Stop discriminating against drug addicts, experts plead
People need to stop discriminating against patients with drug problems and allow them to live normal lives, officials said at a forum ahead of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on June 26.
Held for the third year and supported by the city's narcotics control commission office and hosted by Shanghai University, the two-day forum opened in the Pudong New Area on Wednesday.
The focus of this year's meeting is on Asian drug governance and global sustainable development, with 60 speeches to be heard and more than 200 scholars from home and abroad taking part both online and offline.
Citing the latest national anti-drug report, Hao Wei, president of the Chinese Association of Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment, noted that China had more than 2.55 million drug users in 2017 and the figure was gradually reduced to 1.48 million in 2021.
And the number of newly discovered drug users also went down from 344,000 to 121,000 during the period, he told the forum. "It is a remarkable progress, so much so that many drug rehabilitation centers in China have been closed because of the decline in the number of addicts."
The issue that needs to be addressed now is how these reformed addicts can return to society and start a new life, speakers at the forum said.
Gideon Lasco from the University of the Philippines Diliman mentioned that equating drug users with criminals is a narrow view.
In China, drug addicts are often arrested and taken to isolated facilities for compulsory treatment lasting about two years, which leaves a negative impact on them. To reduce this influence, Hao recently launched an initiative in Changsha, capital of Hunan Province.
Addicts caught by police for the first time are encouraged to go in for voluntary detox, which means they don't need to change their living environment and, to some extent, their normal life is unaffected. But if they reuse drugs after discharge, they will be sent to isolated facilities, he told the forum.
The initiative has been a success, so far. Among the 135 patients discharged over six months, only two tested positive for drugs, with a relapse rate of just 1.5 percent.
Talking about the future, Hao feared that drug abuse is likely to increase in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic because drug smugglers will be back as cross-border drug channels get reconnected.
Caitlin Hughes, president of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy, mentioned in her report that the Golden Triangle of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand has long been an international hub for drug production and trafficking. More drugs have been seized there in the past few years.
Although anti-drug policies in many countries such as Myanmar have improved in recent years, their implementation has been lax because the countries were badly hit by the pandemic, she reasoned.
Many scholars called for international cooperation on anti-drug abuse during the forum.
A book on international drug control for 2022 was also launched by the International Center for Drug Policy Studies of Shanghai University at the forum. It is China's first of its kind, having made its debut in 2019. This year, it focuses on the governance and control of precursor chemicals.