PETALING JAYA: A mental health expert has called for closer collaboration between the government and private sector specialists to tackle the country’s big drug addiction problem.
Andrew Mohanraj, president of the Malaysian Mental Health Association, said the public sector was plagued by a shortage of specialist manpower, such as psychiatrists, de-addiction specialists, counsellors, and psychologists.
“However, there are organisations in the private sector that can potentially fulfill this demand. Consequently, a mechanism should be established to facilitate closer collaboration between the national anti-drugs agency and the private sector,” he said.
Mohanraj, a consultant psychiatrist, said the national agency’s current system, of relying on addicts to practise abstinence, overlooked the psychological elements linked to addiction.
Abstinence dealt mainly with eliminating the body’s physical need for drugs over time, but addiction could not be simply reversed via abstinence as addiction stemmed from complex causes such as past trauma, personality traits, peer pressure, and existing psychiatric conditions.
“People tend to use drugs as a coping strategy,” he said. Ignoring the psychological aspects of drug abuse could lead to a higher chance of relapse among addicts.
Mohanraj was commenting on a government proposal to review criminal penalties for drug offenders in favour of treatment or rehabilitation.
A lawyer, Tharamjit Singh, said that rehabilitation centres should be critically assessed before the government implements its plan.
“There’s no point in sending them to rehabilitation centres if they are just going to use drugs again once they are released,” he said.
The government must examine the data from the existing rehabilitation centres, which includes success rates, the operational guidelines, the inspection protocols, and how they monitor the recovery of individuals.
Tharamjit also suggested Malaysia emulate Australia when it comes to reforming such centres.
“In Australia, it is known as “Correctional Centres,” which function more like rehabilitation facilities. This model integrates counselling and psychological interventions, ensuring a more holistic approach to rehabilitation.”