Pubdate: Mon, 22 Mar 2004
Source: Nation, The (Thailand)
Copyright: 2004 Nation Multimedia Group
Author: Dr Alex Wodak, Pat O'Hare, Karyn Kaplan, Paisan Suonnawong


The deputy executive director of UNAids, Kathleen Cravero, recently
paid visits to top Thai government officials, including the Justice
minister, with a special focus on the promotion of healthy policies,
including harm reduction, for injecting drug-users in Thailand.

The prime minister recently announced that he will continue the war
against drugs. For more than a year, this war has involved a large
number, possibly over a thousand, of unexplained deaths of people
alleged to be drug traffickers. Few doubt that there is a link between
these murders and government policy. These extrajudicial killings have
been roundly condemned by many reputable international organisations,
including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Recently an
official international review of human rights compiled by the US
government strongly denounced these killings as a serious violation of
human rights and called for them to end immediately.

No one can doubt that illicit drugs are a serious problem in Thailand
today. It is now more than 15 years since the first case of HIV
infection was linked to injecting drug use, and today it is estimated
that more than one in four of Thai drug-users are infected with HIV.
HIV also spreads rapidly from drug-users to the general community. Yet
Thailand has done little to control this problem although effective,
safe and inexpensive prevention measures have been known for more than
a decade. The war on drugs makes it even harder to control HIV among
the injecting drug-user population. The health, social and economic
problems resulting from amphetamine use in Thailand are substantial
and increasing.

Governments, as well as citizens, must respect the rule of law. While
considerable demand for these illegal drugs continues, an illegal form
of supply will always emerge. If governments are unable to eradicate
illegal drugs from prisons, then how can they ever hope to make the
general community drug-free? A war against drugs is a quick-fix
solution with increased long term costs just as the use of more drugs
is a quick fix for a drug-user with multiple serious problems. The war
against drugs is doing irreparable damage to Thailand's international
reputation, and this must diminish the prospects of attracting new
foreign investment and tourists.

Many countries are now starting to treat the problems of illicit drugs
using a public-health approach rather than relying on draconian
law-enforcement measures. It is time that Thailand reconsidered its
approach to illicit drugs.

Dr Alex Wodak, president, International Harm Reduction Association|Pat
O'Hare, executive director, International Harm Reduction
Association|Karyn Kaplan, international advocacy coordinator, Thai
Aids Treatment Action Group |Paisan Suonnawong, Thai Drug Users Network
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin