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Officials seek to lower demand for illegal drugs

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Article from Vientiane Times

Newspaper section: International Cooperation

Lao enforcement officers and rehabilitators of victims of drug addiction from 10 provinces met in Vientiane yesterday to seek ways to reduce the demand for drugs. Speaking at the meeting, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) representative to Laos, Mr Leik Boonwaat, said Laos is challenged by the rising use of amphetamine, methamphetamine and heroin, whereas 10 years ago opium was the only drug being used illegally.

"However, if all of us make a great effort, we can solve this country's drug problems," he added. Meeting participants are convening for almost two days to identify areas of work that are proving problematic and those that are making good progress in the fight against drug abuse. They also hope to come up with new ways to help the government reduce the demand for drugs.

Acting Chairman of the Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision (LCDC), Mr Kou Chansina, said that today thousands of people are at risk of drug addiction, especially young people. At least 80 percent of drug users across the country risk becoming addicted to me thamphetamine, he revealed. To implement government policy, the LCDC in cooperation with the UNODC and the US Embassy to Laos is seeking funding from international organisations. T h e government is also using its own budget to fund treatment for the victims of drug addiction at rehabilitation centres, hospitals and in local communities.

"We can treat about 10 percent of drug addicts each year. But compared to the actual need, we are nowhere close to providing sufficient assistance," Mr Kou said. Laos is now working to curb the demand for drugs in a bid to reduce drug trafficking and the number of addicts. Enforcement officers and rehabilitators must work harder to free Laos from drugs by 2015, he added. In 2006 Laos declared itself virtually free of illegal drug production and use, according to the UNODC.

In 1998 almost 27,000ha of opium poppies were under cultivation, which dropped to just 1,500ha in 2006. But in 2012 the UNODC reported that poppy cultivation was on the increase. Prior to this, in 2008, it was estimated the area under cultivation was 1,600ha. After that it steadily increased to 1,900ha in 2009, to 3,000ha in 2010, to 4,100ha in 2011, and to 6,800ha in 2012.