By Pascal Tanguay (LEAHN — Law Enforcement and HIV Network) and Verapun Ngamee (Ozone Foundation)

In 2016, the Kingdom of Thailand formally decided to re-allocate responsibility for drug dependence treatment from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) by the end of 2018. The reforms are designed to increase voluntary access to client-centred drug dependence treatment where the MOPH will be expected to develop guidelines, operati ng standards and monitoring and evaluati on indicators to assess performance. Although Thailand’s drug treatment system has raised significant concerns over the past 15 years, this change is intended by the Government to indicate a shift in the overall approach to drug use and dependence to one based on health and human rights.

For the transition from public security to public health management of drug dependence treatment to generate positive results, the MOPH will require significant support to ensure adequate capacity to deliver drug treatment services that accord with scientific and international standards. Challenges to an effective transition lie in two key areas:

1. The objectives and guiding principles for a national drug treatment system based on principles of health and human rights are yet to be established, and need to be improved and aligned with international guidelines and good practices in order to generate better health outcomes for people who are dependent on drugs.

2. Diversion of people caught using drugs to drug treatment will still be managed and coordinated under the 2002 Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act, which retains punitive and coercive elements such as forced urine testing by law enforcement officers.

This paper offers a brief analysis of these two challenges in light of current policies and practices, along with recommendations for overcoming them to ensure the implementation of a drug treatment system that can result in improved health and human rights outcomes for people who use drugs and people dependant on drugs.