Drug Laws Need Revising to Stop Criminalizing Addicts: Seminar in Indonesia

Map and flag of IndonesiaMap and flag of IndonesiaSpeakers at a seminar in Depok on Saturday said drug laws needed to place more of an emphasis on rehabilitation for users and stop treating addicts the same as traffickers and dealers. Drug laws, according to an official from the Health Ministry, criminalize drug users, treating them like traffickers, which in turn undermines efforts aimed at rehabilitation.
The ministry’s director for the development of mental health, Aminullah, said drug users require special treatment to help them break their addiction. However, he said many users were too afraid to seek treatment because the police targeted them for arrest and criminal prosecution. The ministry-run Drug Addiction Hospital in South Jakarta gets few patients because addicts fear police showing up at the hospital and taking them to prison.

“The hospital is useless because the police are trying to arrest the patients. And the doctors no longer dare to treat addicts secretly because they don’t want to be caught and get in trouble,” Aminullah told the seminar on healthcare and drug abuse, held at the University of Indonesia campus. This, he said, has hampered efforts to break the cycle of addiction, and has helped in the spread of disease through the sharing of needles by injecting drug users. Aminullah suggested amendments to the 1997 law on narcotics and the 1997 law on psychotropics, which criminalize drug use.

HIV/AIDS activist and senior Kompas journalist Irwan Julianto said drug users were different from drug dealers, and should be treated as such. “Our narcotics law still treats drug users like criminals; this needs review,” Irwan said. According to the University of Indonesia’s Health Research Center, injecting drug users are at higher risk of severe infectious diseases, most notably HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. The center found that in 2004, of more than 1 million estimated injecting drug users in the country, nearly 230,000 had HIV/AIDS, 400,000 had hepatitis B and 458,000 hepatitis C. The total number of drug users in the country is estimated to reach 3.2 million people, with most being between the ages of 15 and 25.

Sabarinah Prasetyo of the Health Research Center said the war on drugs should be focused on prevention, including preventing non-users from starting to take drugs and preventing experimental users from becoming addicts. She said therapy and rehabilitation centers offering short to long-term medical and social treatments were also necessary.

Chairman of the Association of Indonesian Physicians Concerned about HIV/AIDS, Samsuridjal Djauzi, emphasized the need to curb the growing population of injecting drug users, particularly given their role in the spread of HIV/AIDS. He said the number of people with HIV/AIDS in Indonesia had grown from between 90,000 and 130,000 in 2002 to between 190,00 and 210,000 in 2006, with 60 percent infected through shared needles. Irwan said the high rate of injecting drug use, he said, could speed up the spread of HIV/AIDS transmission to the larger population.

– Article from The Jakarta Post, July 7th 2008