Drug addiction should be public health issue, not crime, says expert

PETALING JAYA: Drug users should not be lumped together with criminals, says a criminologist, who urged the authorities to use a different approach to tackle the rising number of drug addicts.

P Sundramoorthy of Universiti Sains Malaysia said drug addiction should instead be considered a public health issue.

“In Malaysia, they (drug addicts) are considered criminals and due to this, we have created thousands of criminals based on the fact that they are drug users.

“Criminals are those involved in the drugs trade,” he told FMT.

He said by de-criminalising drug addicts, they would be able to seek treatment at hospitals and clinics, and not arrested and put in rehabilitation centres or prisons.

He said the practice of sending addicts to jail does help in finding a lasting solution to the problem of drug abuse.

“The court sends them to prison, but that is just a shortcut to addressing the problem.”

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail had earlier said government programmes to stop drug abuse have failed despite huge funds to fight the menace.

She said drug addicts still make up the majority of the prison population in the country, citing a report by the National Anti-Drugs Agency (AADK) which showed 25,922 cases of drug abuse last year, out of which 18,440 were new cases and 7,482 involved repeat offenders.

Sundramoorthy said putting drug users in prison will allow them to socialise with other inmates who are likely to pick up the habit.

He said addicts should be allowed to be treated in hospitals and counselling centres, and not in rehab centres or prisons.

He said locking them up was a waste of public funds.

“The repeat offender rate is still very high despite that.”

He added that many drug users could support themselves but due to existing laws, employers are reluctant to hire them.

He said not sending addicts to jail does not mean legalising drug abuse, adding that people would always have access to drugs.

“Accessibility to purchase drugs is another issue. That is the role of law enforcement.”

He said even in prison or rehabilitation centres, inmates have been known to have access to purchase drugs and other illegal substances.

“For years, there has been such allegations, and I obtained the information from my sources who have been going in and out of the place,” he said, adding that there was a need for a complete overhaul of the prison institution.

“What’s the use of putting them inside if such activities can still take place?”