SDP technical brief on drug harms in Malaysia
Most recently, Malaysia was lauded as one of the countries having the fastest growing needle and syringe programmes (NSEP) in the world. Methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) is widely available in Ministry of Health community clinics, and given positive results, will likely be scaled up in Ministry of Health facilities. Importantly also, this year a commendable process began at the Ministry of Home Affairs to reform national drug policy. These programs were introduced despite challenging legal environments following the earlier adoption of the War on Drugs in Malaysia.
However, today drug policy in Malaysia continues to include imprisonment of people who use drugs (PWUD), judicial corporal punishment, and compulsory detention, representing clear challenges to effective harm reduction service delivery. Some of these measures have been in place since the inception of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, i.e. 63 years ago.
Internationally, it has been proven that punitive measures have little impact on the reduction of drug harms, and in fact exacerbates negative health outcomes and displace drug markets to new and wider areas. In 2008, the then Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, released a report which stated: ‘Drug use is often called a disease of development, related to the increasing need for psychoactive substances to reduce stress, increase performance or simply escape from a harsh reality’ . He continued to detail the ‘unintended consequences’ of the law enforcement-based drug control system: i.e. the creation of a criminal black market, the policy displacement of public health taking a backseat to law enforcement measures, geographical displacement of drugs (drug markets shifting to new areas after tighter controls in one area), substance displacement (when one drug was controlled, users move on to different drugs), and the way we deal with people who use drugs, i.e. with marginalisation and stigmatisation. ASEAN as a region continues to see these trends.
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