INCB Preaches Prevention and Treatment to Tackle Drugs in Latest Report

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Indonesia is a regional leader in marijuana production, according to the latest report by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). (AFP Photo)

[Updated at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, March 5, 2014]

Jakarta. A global shift from drug enforcement to prevention and treatment could save billions of dollars annually as national anti-narcotics agencies struggle to curb a growing supply of readily available but illegal drugs, a report from a drug-monitoring group suggests.

“Most studies have shown that for every dollar spent, good prevention programs can save governments up to $10 in later costs,” the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said in a report released on Tuesday. “Therefore, governments’ investments in prevention, treatment and rehabilitation programs, and their regulatory control systems, must be maintained — even in times of financial austerity.”

The INCB released its 45th annual report on Tuesday, focusing on a two-pronged approach of increased prevention and treatment to combat drug abuse worldwide and highlighting the emergence of new, previously unknown synthetic derivatives designed to skirt domestic drug law. The organization, an “independent, quasi-judicial” monitoring body with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), argued that increased efforts to prevent drug addiction, as well as treat those already addicted to illegal substances could save governments money in the long run.

“If all independent drug users had received treatment in 2010, the cost of such treatment would have been an estimated $200 billion-$250 billion, or 0.3-0.4 percent of the global gross domestic product,” the report read. “Research findings clearly show that investment in treatment is cost-effective compared with the cost of untreated and continuing abuse.”

Increasing access to prevention and rehabilitation programs would not only lower costs but decrease new HIV infections, overdoses and visits to hospital emergency rooms, the report concluded.

Indonesia lagging in drug treatment

Some 4.5 million people worldwide — about one in six addicts — receive necessary drug treatment at a cost of around $35 billion per year. The United States, which stressed prevention over jail time in its 2013 drug control strategy, allocated more than $10.5 billion for prevention and treatment.

Indonesia’s National Narcotics Agency (BNN), meanwhile, spent some $88 million in 2013 on both drug enforcement and rehabilitation.

Domestically only one in 510 drug addicts receive needed treatment, according to the BNN’s rehabilitation deputy Diah Setiah Utami. Indonesia lags significantly behind the countries in North America, where one in three receive treatment, Latin America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Southeastern Europe — where one in eleven receive treatment.

Indonesian officials have begun a push for greater access to rehabilitation programs in recent years, but efforts to address the problem with treatment centers instead of prison terms has yet to effect widespread change. The nation has some of the strictest drug laws in the world — where those caught in possession of even minor amounts of a banned substance could face the death penalty as a trafficker.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has gone on the record supporting a softer touch with drug addicts, but early efforts to push for more rehab centers have been met with resistance from judges who are loathe to appear weak on drugs and lawmakers who often use the early release of traffickers as a moment to grandstand against the unpopular president.

Instead many drug users find themselves behind bars in one of the nation’s overcrowded drug penitentiaries like Cipinang Prison, in East Jakarta, or Bali’s notorious Kerobokan Prison. Roughly 42 percent of the nation’s prisoners were locked up for drug-related charges, and few have access to treatment like rehabilitation programs.

Still, the Ministry of Health said it aims to increase treatment options for the 4.6 million drug addicts currently estimated to live in Indonesia.

“Our anti-napza [narcotics, psychotropics and addictive substances] policy consists of three aspects,” Deputy Health Minister Ali Ghufron said. “We want supply reduction, harm reduction and demand reduction. We deal with these three things.

“In order not to criminalize the victims — we want to put them in rehab — we just need an assessment as to whether someone is a victim, a trafficker or a dealer. We have to separate those. Many of the victims have been jailed, and the prisons are almost full or crowded because they house many narcotics victims.”

The INCB noted in its annual report that across Southeast Asia community-based treatment centers have expanded to provide local access to rehabilitation centers in lieu of compulsory state-run drug programs.

Some activists in Indonesia, however, say that the definition for such centers remains vague.

“It’s still unclear about the definition of community-based rehab in Indonesia,” Edo Nasution, the National Coordinator of the Indonesian Network of People Who Use Drugs (PKNI), told the Jakarta Globe on Wednesday. “At the moment they’re going with the BNN definition, which also includes abstinence-based and faith-based centers that are far from ‘community based.’”

The country needs a clearer definition of community-based treatment centers, Edo argued.

“I disagree if they say that rehabilitation centers run by government can be considered as community based treatment,” he said. “Those are compulsory rehabilitation centers.”

Amphetamine, new drugs on the rise

Indonesia’s drug laws have done little to curb demand in a country where everyone from police officers to the former chief justice of the Constitutional Court have been caught with a banned substance in the past year. The nation accounted for the majority of Ecstasy seizures in Southeast Asia in 2011. Indonesia is also a regional hub for marijuana production and home to a rising number of amphetamine users, the report read.

More than 22 tons of marijuana were destroyed in Indonesia in 2011, making the nation one of the region’s largest weed producers along with the Philippines. Despite the significant numbers, marijuana use in Indonesia has been on the decline in the past year, the report read.

But seizures of crystal methamphetamine increased  75 percent in Indonesia last year, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Crystal meth, Ecstasy and synthetic stimulants like cathinone are big business for local drug cartels, netting approximately $1 billion a year for domestic drug syndicates, according to Troels Vester, the UNODC country director for Indonesia.

“Indonesia is not only a destination and transit point for drugs, but it also [produces] drugs,” Vester said. “In the last two years, more than 100, 150 drug labs have been destroyed in Indonesia.”

New psychoactive substances (NPS) like synthetic cathinone and its derivatives have burst on the scene in Indonesia, stymieing enforcement efforts worldwide. Seventy countries worldwide, including Indonesia, reported seizures of substances such as mephedrone, methylone and synthetic cannabinoids.

In many countries the substances are able to stay one step ahead of law enforcement. As police crack down on one synthetic drug, another hits the market with enough minor changes made to its chemical composition that it remains, for a short time, available in a legal gray area. Once that new drug is banned, another is batch of slightly tweaked derivatives is ready to take its place.

Methylone first made in headlines in Indonesia when television personality Raffi Ahmad was arrested with 14 methylone pills at a house party last January. The drug was largely unknown at the time, and posed a challenge to Indonesia’s 2009 Narcotics Law — which lacked clear language banning methylone. The matter was made a non-issue when Ahmad voluntarily agreed to enter a drug rehab program in lieu of jail time. 

Since then, the BNN reported in November of last year that it discovered more than 20 new types of drugs in Indonesia.