Informal drug policy dialogue in South East Asia discusses opium cultivation and expanding ATS markets

In December 2012, individuals representing community, civil society, government and intergovernmental bodies met to engage in informal dialogue about drug policy issues in Southeast Asia and India. It was organised by the Transnational Institute and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ—Germany Agency for International Cooperation), in collaboration with the Thailand Office of the Narcotics Control Board, and governed by the Chatham House rule to ensure confidentiality and encourage free exchange of views. The result was two days of frank discussion about the problems faced by opium farmers, people who use drugs and policymakers, and how to improve existing responses in the rapidly changing political, economic and security contexts of Southeast Asia.

When it came to the issue of alternative development initiatives in India, Laos and Myanmar, strong recommendations were made for government agencies to consult opium farmers about opium use and cultivation before eradicating their crops. There was a suggestion for government-regulated supply of opium in order to prevent opium users from growing it for themselves.  An appropriate development-oriented approach to opium eradication was widely discussed, and general acknowledgement made of the fact that many farmers cultivate opium due to a lack of options for sustaining an adequate livelihood.

The use and trade in amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), and the corresponding policy and treatment responses for ATS, in Southeast Asia were the focus of discussion during the second half of the dialogue.  There was widespread dissension on the ASEAN drug strategy’s vision for a drug-free region, attributed to the politicisation of drug issues and dogged public perception of drugs as a key security concern in many Southeast Asian nations. There seemed to be limited space for dialogue within ASEAN to facilitate more objective drug policy debate in the lead up to the development of a new drug strategy to replace the current one, which expires in 2015.  It appeared clear that a better understanding of the health impacts of drugs, particularly ATS, the motivations for its use, and related trends is sorely needed in order to develop appropriate, evidence-based treatment and other policy responses. Discussion about significant drug policy shifts in the US, South American countries such as Uruguay, and the Latin American region gave some hope that disruptions to the drug policy status quo could also take place in Southeast Asia and India, even if only in incremental steps.

For further details of discussions at the informal dialogue, please look out for the report, to be published soon by the Transnational Institute.

Gloria Lai, IDPC Senior Policy Officer

For more information, please visit the IDPC website.