Drug Rates, Addiction and Policy in Southeast Asia

Share on Facebook
Southeast-Asia-Header

Drug abuse is no less common among the Southeast Asian population than in other parts of the world. Thus, it is unfortunate that treatment can be so difficult to come by, leading to more drug-related overdose deaths and drug-related arrests for countries in the region. Overdose statistics are hard to come by in the Southeast Asia region, because the majority of drug users don’t step forward and ask for help, even in life-threatening situations, out of fear that they’ll be arrested.

South East Asia Globe
The symptoms of drug abuse include: [5]
  • A tolerance to the abused substance that requires the user to use more of it to achieve the same effect they’ve grown accustomed to
  • Using substances to delay or altogether sidestep experiencing withdrawal symptoms
  • A lack of control over how much and/or how often the substance is used
  • A significant amount of time being spent tracking their next supplier and an overall preoccupation with the drug
  • A loss of interest in things they used to enjoy doing, because they’d rather be doing drugs
  • Persistent use of the drug even when they’ve suffered poor health or other problems in life because of it

The data that has been collected by a website organized to help put naloxone — a popular, effective, and non-addictive treatment drug — in the hands of those who need it most reported some pretty alarming results. In just the northern part of Vietnam, 43.5 percent of intravenous drug users interviewed were overdose survivors.[1] Drug abuse is defined as the persistent misuse of an illicit substance even when the results of such behaviors bring forth negative consequences, such as legal ramifications, illness or family problems.[2]

To be clear, not everyone who misuses a drug — be it prescription, over-the-counter or illegal — is a drug addict. Addiction does develop in many drug abusers though, and it is present when an individual feels ill equipped to function without the substance, spends money they don’t have to obtain it, cannot stop using it, and engages in behaviors they normally wouldn’t while on it, among other things.[3] Insufficient reporting measures make it hard to decipher how many addicts reside in the southeastern region of Asia, but the 3.4 million to 20.7 million individuals in both East and Southeast Asia who admitted to past-year amphetamine use in a recent survey paint a grim picture.[4]

Southeast Asia in a Nutshell

The southeastern region of Asia is made up of two different sections: the mainland and the Maritime. The mainland area of Southeast Asia includes:[6]

  • Cambodia
  • Laos
  • Myanmar
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam
  • West Malaysia

Maritime Southeast Asia includes the following countries:[7]

  • Brunei
  • East Malaysia
  • Indonesia
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Timor-Leste

Addiction in Asia

The most widely abused drugs in Southeast Asia are Ecstasy [8], methamphetamine pills and crystalline methamphetamine.[9] Heroin has been a concern for years but remains far less of a threat than amphetamine-type stimulants. Years ago, opium poppies were commonly cultivated in Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, but production saw a decline across the board in the early 2000s.[10]

2-Methamphetamines-Stat

However, as of 2007, cultivation of the potent plant has been on the upswing in all three of those nations again, slowly increasing in hectares with each passing year.[11] Derived from the opium poppy pod, heroin continues to grow in popularity among Southeast Asia, with 755 kilograms of seizures of the drug in 2011 just in Malaysia alone, up from 299 kilograms the year before; Thailand saw seizures of 554 kilograms of heroin in 2011 — a large increase from the 139 kilograms they had in 2010.[12] The Golden Triangle region now accounts for 30 percent of all opium produced worldwide.[13]

Of the approximate 1,300 people who received drug abuse treatment via community-based efforts in Cambodia during 2012, 86.4 percent were treated for amphetamine-type stimulants.[14] In Laos, methamphetamine users made up more than half of the population that was treated for amphetamine-type stimulant use in 2012 at just one rehabilitation facility in the nation’s capital.[15] Crystalline methamphetamine seizures reached an all-time high in recent years with 19.1 kilograms of the drug being seized in Cambodia and 14 kilograms in Singapore in 2011.[16]

Unfortunately, illicit drug manufacturing generally follows the natural path of supply and demand, and as the number of users continues to increase, so do Asian-based production setups.[17] The growing popularity of injecting meth in this region has led to a surge in the number of people contracting infectious diseases, either through the practice itself or due to engaging in unprotected sex — often a consequence of drug use. Nearly five million people have HIV in South, East, and Southeast Asia combined.[18] While Ecstasy has been less popular in recent years, it is likely due to the advanced popularity of synthetic versions of the drug, like Molly, but it still remains one of the most abused drugs in Vietnam.[19]
Cambodia-Stat

Law Enforcement

There certainly isn’t a shortage of drug-related police activity in Southeast Asia. From 2008 to 2012, Thailand saw a significant increase in seizures of methamphetamine, from two tons to over 10.[20] Myanmar jumped from a mere 0.1 tons to two tons in the same time period.[21] In addition, organized crime tied specifically to amphetamine-type stimulants had increased by 200 percent in Indonesia as of 2011.[22]

Thai baht money banknotes

The law doesn’t fall short when it comes to drug use in Southeast Asian countries either. In Indonesia, parents are required by law to turn their own children into the authorities if they’re engaging in drug use, and there are criminal penalties awaiting them if they don’t.[23] In Thailand, eradication of drugs was taken to extremes from February to May of 2003 when law enforcement and the public were granted legal authority to take the lives of drug users; more than 2,000 people were killed in the tirade that was presided over and authorized by the Thai Prime Minister.[24]


Cambodian riot police

In Singapore, 84 percent of drug-related arrests are for heroin and methamphetamine, the two most popular drugs in the nation.[25] Drug crimes in Cambodia come with a penalty ranging from five years to life in prison, and some offenses in Laos come with fines to the tune of $35,000.[26] In more extreme measures, Indonesia doesn’t cut drug offenders any slack; in fact, a cannabis offense can land you in prison for two decades, and trafficking drugs through the country could cost you your life — a penalty you could also face in Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines.[27]

Of course, not every drug protocol or every country in Southeast Asia is aligned with these views. In the Philippines, talk of marijuana reform has been making waves, and it’s possible the nation could see the decriminalization and medicinal use of the plant-based drug come to fruition in the future.[28]

Drug Tourism

Drug tourism — a concept many in Western civilization aren’t even aware of — is alive and booming in Southeast Asia. People travel from all over the world to countries in this region and buy drugs that are either more affordable in Asia, or drugs that are highly illegal where they live and safer to buy and use elsewhere. Laos is a popular destination for those who want to smoke opium, and a pipe only costs them a couple bucks.[29] Tourists are flocking to the Golden Triangle, with a 15 percent increase in the number of travelers from 2010 to 2011.[30]
drug tourism

A Picture of Health

There have been efforts to reduce the negative consequences of drug abuse in Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam’s initiative to provide nearly 200,000 drug users with 1,000 clean needles in an attempt to decrease their chances of contracting infectious diseases like HIV.[31] For the most part, Asian culture still carries a stigmatized view of what it means to be mentally ill, and those who are can expect to be labeled as being “dangerous and aggressive”—words that caution people and cause them to distance themselves from the afflicted party.[32] For this reason, many in need of mental health care do not seek it due to the shame and embarrassment they feel and the desire to keep their problems private. Often, individuals suffering from undiagnosed or untreated mental health disorders will self-medicate with drugs to numb their symptoms.

Treatment Options

A Patient With Saline Intravenous (iv) On Hospital Bed

Treatment options in Southeast Asia aren’t nearly as desolate as they are in some other regions, such as the Middle East, but they don’t quite compare to the substance abuse help that addicts have in more developed areas like North America either. Nevertheless, many of the same amenities, medications, and programs are available on a smaller scale, as well as many approaches that are aligned more strongly with Asian culture. While Asians generally do not look highly upon drug abuse

and consider those who engage in it to be weaker members of the population, there is still a fairly strong semblance of community within rehabilitation facilities in Southeast Asia.

In 2011, 99 percent of substance abuse patients treated in Brunei, 95 percent in Laos, 90 percent in Cambodia, 85 percent in Thailand, 62 percent in the Philippines, 27 percent in Singapore, 13 percent in all of Malaysia, and three percent in Myanmar all cited methamphetamine as the primary drug they used.[33]

Alternative treatment options are more common in Southeast Asia, including the practice of mindfulness and meditation to aid in the recovery an addict, treating the patient as a whole rather than their addiction alone. Many institutions in countries like Thailand engage clients in these behaviors and others as a way of working out their core issues that led them to self-medicate with drugs. Many facilities treat patients with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques and veer away from religious constraints that some other rehabilitation constructs impose.[34] Modern-day treatment options like this prove that Southeast Asia is far more evolved than it is given credit for — recognizing that not everyone follows a religious faith, nor the same one in unity.

Drug abuse doesn’t have to be the end of your life or the means of your existence. At Rehab International, we can connect you with the information and assistance you need to prepare yourself for a drug-free life no matter where you call home. Call us today and speak with one of our admissions coordinators to find out how we can help you achieve success in your battle against substance abuse.

Citations

[1]New Website Aims to Reduce Worldwide Overdose Deaths from Opioids.” (2013 June 10). The Wall Street Journal. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[2]Drug Abuse (cont.).” (n.d.). MedicineNet. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[3] Mayo Clinic Staff. (n.d.). “Drug Addiction: Symptoms.Mayo Clinic. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[4]Ecstasy and Methamphetamine first choice of drugs in East and South East Asia.” (2010 November 25). United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[5] Robinson, L., Smith, M. & Saison, J. (2014 February). “Drug Abuse & Addiction.Help Guide. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[6]Maps of Southeast Asia Region.” (n.d.). Nations Online. Accessed September 6, 2014.

[7] Ibid.

[8]Ecstasy and Methamphetamine first choice of drugs in East and South East Asia.” (2010 November 25). United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[9] Degenhardt, L. (n.d.). “Overview of drug trends in East and Southeast Asia.United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Degenhardt, L. (n.d.). “Overview of drug trends in East and Southeast Asia.United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[13] Oakford, S. (2014 July 8). “Southeast Asia’s War on Drugs Is a Grotesque Failure, but Why Stop?Vice News. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[14] Lipes, J. (2014 May 20). “Growing Meth Demand Sees Record Seizures in Asia: UN.Radio Free Asia. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Degenhardt, L. (n.d.). “Overview of drug trends in East and Southeast Asia.United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[17] Lipes, J. (2014 May 20). “Growing Meth Demand Sees Record Seizures in Asia: UN.Radio Free Asia. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[18]HIV and AIDS in Asia.” (n.d.). AVERT. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[19] Degenhardt, L. (n.d.). “Overview of drug trends in East and Southeast Asia.United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[20] Lipes, J. (2014 May 20). “Growing Meth Demand Sees Record Seizures in Asia: UN.Radio Free Asia. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Degenhardt, L. (n.d.). “Overview of drug trends in East and Southeast Asia.United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[23] Ferreri-Hanberry, B. (2014 February 26). “Drug Laws in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[24] Cheesman, N. (n.d.). “Murder as public policy in Thailand.Asian Human Rights Commission. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[25]Country reports: Singapore.” (2011). U.S. Department of State via TheFreeLibrary.com. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[26] Aquino, M. (n.d.). “Harsh Punishments for Drug Use in Southeast Asia.About Travel. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ferreri-Hanberry, B. (2014 February 26). “Drug Laws in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[29] Crampton, T. (1999 March 1). “Drug Tourism / In Laos, English Menus and New Opium Dens: Westerners Flock East for an ‘Asian Trip’.The New York Times. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[30] Turow, E. (2012 March 7). “The High Lands: Exploring Drug Tourism Across Southeast Asia.The Atlantic. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[31] Shukla, S. (2014 July 23). “Breaking the ‘Silos’ of Drug Use.Asia Sentinel. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[32] Lauber, C. & Rossler, W. (2007 April 19). “Stigma towards people with mental illness in developing countries in Asia.International review of psychiatry. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[33]Degenhardt, L. (n.d.). Overview of drug trends in East and Southeast Asia. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Accessed September 7, 2014.

[34] Ibid.

×

Rehab International is a service provided by Foundations Recovery Network. As part of the Foundations Recovery Network, our goal is to provide science-based treatments to individuals suffering from issues of addiction and mental illness.

When you call you will be connected to a member of the Foundations Recovery Network who will assist in providing you with any questions you may have regarding the treatment process.

The treatment directory on Rehab International is created using resources made available in the public domain. If you would like a listing removed or edited please contact us. If you are trying to reach a resource listing on one of the pages, please contact them directly through their website or contact information provided.


JCAHO The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) is the national evaluation and certifying agency for health care organization and programs in the United States. JCAHO strives to improve health care for the public. FRN is proud to be affiliated with several JCAHO accredited facilities.

You're not alone. We're here to help, 24/7. Please call: 877-345-3281