August 19, 2016

Time to change perceptions of addiction

The National League for Democracy government is pushing an agenda to prevent betel nut stands from being located near public buildings, such as: hospitals, schools, public offices and also the push to end spitting of the refuse, mostly containing saliva.
This was met with concern and anger from the public, as some groups believed it was an attack on the way of life for betel sellers and chewers alike, with a few comments saying it was attacking Myanmar/ Buddhist culture – forcing the government to come out and say they are not completely banning it — even though they never intended to in the first place. Unlike alcohol and smoking, betel is seen as a harmless social drug – it’s not the case.
Allowing a cultural stigma to be reinforced over some drugs is counterproductive. When taking something away from a society that does not understand the benefits for it’s removal, will always make you unpopular in the eyes of users, but it has to happen.
Drug use and abuse, in all forms is a biological, psychological disease and a social construct. Users lose free will and are unable to critically assess as to why they use a substance in the first place. As much as betel is akin to Myanmar culture, it’s still a drug.
Approaching the drug debate needs to be executed constructively in order to bring about an equal and educated rhetoric to abuse, rather than a fractured hate filled biased approach. This includes looking at the contextual laws regarding drug use and distribution.
The continued demonisation of addicts in Myanmar isn’t going to solve any problems in the long run. The continued imprisonment, physical abuse and forced imprisonment by vigilante groups in Kachin and the humiliation of public notices of people’s arrests will only further push vulnerable people to the fringes of society, this will spread communicable diseases, unwanted pregnancies, poverty, violence and death.
On 27 June Myanmar Times quoted Police Colonel Zaw Win Tun as saying that the previous government’s Ministry of Home Affairs submitted a law to amend the 1993 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law, but it is still awaiting debate.
The article in focus was:
“15. A drug user who fails to register at the place prescribed by the Ministry of Health or at a medical centre recognised by the Government for purpose or who fails to abide by the directives issued by the Ministry of Health for medical treatment shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend from a minimum of 3 years to a maximum of 5 years.”
It would be a great start to abolish that particular article, also amending other articles in the law to redefine current limits that amount to trafficking — a small possession amounts to a heavy and unfair sentence.
Publically burning seized drugs as a sign of combatting a serious social issue isn’t an answer; the answer is to help those affected and to have honest and truthful drug education in schools, also involve civil society groups to help addicts receive un-biased, free and open assistance.


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