United Nations/Burma Programme for Drug Abuse Control

Sections

ABSTRACT
General background
The Government's response
United Nations/Burma Programme for Drug Abuse Control
Conclusions

Details

Author: Philip ZEALEY
Pages: 1 to 26
Creation Date: 1981/01/01

United Nations/Burma Programme for Drug Abuse Control

The first phase: 1976 to 1981

Philip ZEALEY Liaison Officer

ABSTRACT

The paper provides an outline of a wide-ranging drug abuse control programme undertaken by the Government of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma with support and assistance from the United Nations. The components included law enforcement, crop substitution, measures for treatment and rehabilitation and a nationwide programme for drug education. The overall effort was co-ordinated by the Ministry of Home and Religious Affairs, through a Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control on which the Deputy Ministers of the Ministries concerned were members. Liaison between the executing Burmese agencies and the United Nations assisting organizations was effected through a small United Nations office established in Rangoon. The promising result of the programme has led to a further Agreement between the Government and the United Nations for the continuation of the programme for a further five years from May 1981.

General background

The opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) has been known to man since the dawn of history. It was certainly known to the ancient Egyptians; pictures of its characteristic seed pods have been found on their stone inscriptions. It can be cultivated in many parts of the world but it seems to grow best in tropical regions at an elevation of between 1,000 and 2,000 metres. One such region is in South East Asia on the borders of Burma, Thailand and Laos. This area has become known as the "golden triangle", a popular catchphrase of journalists.

Like so many catchphrases it is not an accurate description. It is neither triangular in shape, nor has it brought gold, or even reasonable prosperity, to its inhabitants. The fabulous profits gained from the illegal marketing of the products of the opium poppy have not been of any great benefit to those who toil in the hillside fields. The cultivation of the poppy is a laborious business. As soon as the white flowers have fallen, shallow incisions are painstakingly made in the green seed pods. The exudations which ooze out from these incisions are collected on a kind of spatula. This is raw opium Papaver somniferum is an annual. In South East Asia the seed is usually sown at the end of the monsoon season - in November. The harvest is collected in February and March, before the advent of the hot season. A good crop is dependent on some winter rain in the hills, but rainfall is unreliable. An area of scrub jungle is cleared by physical labour with hand tools, aided by burning. After a few years the land becomes exhausted and unproductive. It is then abandoned and a fresh area is cleared and cultivation moves to this new location. Shifting cultivation, as it is called, has serious ecological and social disadvantages.

On the ecological front, the spent soil in the abandoned poppy fields tends to be washed down the hillsides by heavy rain, thus causing soil erosion. Where the slopes are steep, as is often the case in the poppy growing regions, the results can be quite serious. The social impact of shifting cultivation is also of significance. It introduces an element of nomadism among the hill tribe people whose villages are moved periodically in order to be nearer to the changing arable land. Unlike the settled farmers in the plains they do not have a sense of vested interest in a particular plot of land which needs to be "husbanded".

When the soil is exhausted the people move elsewhere, which may be far away in another unoccupied section of the hills which shows promise for development. Their immediate loyalty is to the village community and to their ethnic tribal group with whom they share a common language.

Many of these tribal groups, for example the Meo, Lahu, Lisu and Akka, can be found in isolated pockets in all three countries included in the so-called "golden triangle". Some are also to be found in the Yunnan Province of China. Their relationship to the sovereign States to which they belong has been somewhat tenuous and ambivalent, sometimes even hostile. In the past they have been often neglected and left to their own devices. At best they have been regarded as second class citizens. This is changing and the Governments concerned are now making considerable efforts to improve their lot by the introduction of health and education services and by rural development activities, whilst strongly discouraging the production of opium.

In Thailand these efforts have been outlined by I. M. G. Williams in his article in the Bulletin on Narcotics (vol. XXXI, No. 2, April-June 1979). Some of the work in Burma will be described in this paper, but mention must be made of the Academy of the Nationalities near Mandalay. Here, a selection of secondary school students from all the ethnic groups is brought together for a three-year residential course with the object of promoting a fuller sense of unity amongst the peoples of Burma. These students are expected to return to their home towns or villages as primary school teachers. In this and in other ways the Government is endeavouring to achieve a fuller sense of national citizenship amongst the hill tribe people and other ethnic groups.

The history of opium production in South East Asia is murky and complex, involving external commercial interests and eventually illegal international trafficking with heavy political overtones. Opium consumption started as a means of providing a cure-all medicine, but its addictive qualities and its capacity to induce temporary euphoric states led to its wholesale abuse. In Burma, this abuse of opium was, and still largely is, confined to the hill tribes and those living in the poppy growing areas. One has to remember that the isolated hill regions were devoid of medical services and that the people have been dependent on traditional cures based on local plants, of which the opium poppy was pre-eminent. These simple people can hardly be held responsible for the worldwide abuse of opium and its derivatives which has developed over the past 100 years or more. Understandably, the hill tribe opium growers responded to the increased demand and this has led to ever-increasing acreages of poppy being grown in this region. Only a small part of the opium produced has been retained for local consumption, the rest being sold to traders at a price which has always been only a small fraction of its real value in the illicit market abroad. The growers have been more the victims than the villains of the story.

It is to be noted that the settled valley-dwelling people of Burma, predominantly Buddhist by faith, have not become victims of opium abuse. Its recreational use was strongly frowned upon and professional medical care was more easily accessible. However, in the early 1970s heroin began to make its appearance and gave cause for serious concern. Until this time raw opium was illicitly traded out of Burma, mostly across the frontier into Thailand, and then hidden in ships bound for such places as Marseilles or Hong Kong where it was processed into heroin for wider distribution.

Partly due to the success of law enforcement agencies in locating clandestine laboratories based in these cities, and partly due to the fact that heroin is only one tenth of the weight and bulk of opium, the narcotic syndicates began to move their processing laboratories nearer to the source of supply. Thus makeshift heroin laboratories began to be established on the Burma and Thai border, hidden by bamboo thickets in steep valleys with a source of water from nearby streams. Although the heroin produced was intended for illicit export to the world markets in industrialized countries, some of it inevitably found its way into Rangoon and other urban centres. For the first time, Burma was faced with the menace of heroin addiction.

The Government's response

In 1974 the Government of Burma enacted legislation designed to prohibit the cultivation of the opium poppy (and the cannabis plant) on its territory, to prohibit the trafficking in narcotic drugs, and to require drug addicts to register with the authorities in order to undergo treatment. The penalties for infringement were severe, especially for trafficking and failure to register and undergo treatment. In practice, the penalty for continued cultivation of the opium poppy has been the destruction of the crop. In addition, the Government decided to promote two forms of preventive action. The first was a support scheme in crop substitution to assist and encourage the poppy growers to establish the cultivation of legal crops which would provide an alternative source of income. The second was a nationwide information and education programme to warn the populace, and particularly young people, of the dangers of drug abuse. This all-embracing effort to tackle the problem of drug abuse was given high priority in both planning and the allocation of resources for its execution.

The Government set up a new body - the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC) - to co-ordinate the programme. Its Chairman was the Minister of Home and Religious Affairs, and its members included the Deputy Ministers of Agriculture, Health, Education, Information and Social Welfare.

Work began without delay. The CCDAC began discussions with the United Nations Division of Narcotic Drugs and with the United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control (UNFDAC) regarding possible United Nations assistance to the programme. Burma was extremely short of foreign exchange and it was envisaged that inputs from the United Nations could strengthen and accelerate the work by the provision of equipment, supplies, expertise and overseas training facilities. The Minister of Home and Religious Affairs made it clear that the Government was determined to fight the drug menace with all the means at its disposal, but that United Nations support would be welcome and could both strengthen and speed up the execution of its intentions.

An exploratory United Nations Mission was invited to visit Burma in November 1974 to discuss needs in detail with the various Ministries concerned. This visit led to the preparation of five-year work plans in all fields of operation and to an Agreement with the United Nations involving inputs to the value of over $6.5 million over the period 1976 to 1981. The Government of Norway agreed to contribute, through UNFDAC, approximately $5.5 million of this total.

United Nations/Burma Programme for Drug Abuse Control

The Agreement with the Government of Burma initiated the most wide-ranging programme of assistance by the United Nations in the field of drug abuse control.

The programme was national in scope and covered all aspects of the problem from law enforcement to the rehabilitation of drug abusers after detoxification. It involved assistance from four other specialized agencies, i.e. the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The United Nations Division of Narcotic Drugs was named as the overall executing agency. Under the Agreement the Government invited the Division to nominate a Liaison Officer to co-ordinate United Nations participation and to provide the link between the various Ministries and United Nations agencies involved. The United Nations set up a small office in Rangoon for the provision of the various services needed to ensure the smooth running of the programme.

United Nations participation provided for assistance in equipment and supplies to improve law enforcement by the People's Police Force (PPF), to enlarge the facilities for treatment through the Ministry of Health, to encourage efforts in crop substitution by giving support to the Agricultural Corporation and the Livestock Development and Marketing Corporation, to assist the Ministries of Education and Information in the implementation of a campaign to reduce the demand for drugs of abuse and finally, to support the Ministry of Social Welfare in its plans to establish a network of drug rehabilitation centres in the areas most affected by drug abuse. The strategy represented a fully co-ordinated plan to reduce the production of narcotic drugs by enforcement of the law prohibiting the growing of the opium poppy combined with support for the establishment of viable alternative crops.

It was further aimed at reducing demand through the provision of facilities for treatment and rehabilitation reinforced by educational and publicity campaigns with the objective of minimizing drug abuse in the future.

Law enforcement

The PPF had a dual task in this programme. It was responsible for the prevention of opium production, mainly by policing the areas concerned and destroying illicit crops before they could be harvested. It was also responsible for tracking down and apprehending drug traffickers and bringing the culprits before the courts. In support of these efforts the United Nations programme provided a fleet of four-wheel-drive vehicles and radio equipment to improve the already established communications network. An additional need to be met was the provision of scientific equipment and supplies for the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) laboratory, which included a unit for the identification and analysis of suspected narcotic substances for forensic purposes.

The PPF actively participated in the programme of seminars organized by the Central Training Unit of the Division of Narcotic Drugs. These international meetings, which brought together police officers from many countries, were held several times a year. Initially held in Geneva, they became regionalized and during the first phase of the programme, some 20 middle-level police officers from Burma attended such meetings held at Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and New Delhi. The seminars became a most useful forum for the exchange of experience and ideas between field police officers directly concerned with the prevention of illicit drug trafficking.

Four laboratory technicians were invited to spend six months at the United Nations Narcotics Laboratory in Geneva (since moved to Vienna) to study the latest methods of drug identification and analysis. This included training in the use and maintenance of more sophisticated equipment being supplied to Burma under the programme. Furthermore, two radio specialists were sent to the

Vehicles, Toyota 3/4 ton pickups, for Law Enforcement Sector United Nations/Burma Programme for Drug Abuse Control

Full size image: 87 kB, Vehicles, Toyota 3/4 ton pickups, for Law Enforcement Sector United Nations/Burma Programme for Drug Abuse Control

United States for one month's training in the factory of the firm supplying communications equipment for the law enforcement sector.

The major thrust for the destruction of poppy crops took place each year at the time of flowering in February and March. Very often the fields could only be located by aerial reconnaissance, followed up by operations on the ground. This involved arduous foot-slogging by units of the police which were sent into the growing areas. These units were sometimes reinforced by civilian volunteers recruited by the local township councils, including local branches of the Lanzin Youth, the youth wing of the ruling party. In recent years, in areas where the poppy has been grown under insurgent duress, the hill tribe people themselves have participated in the poppy destruction campaign.

The crops are destroyed by knocking down the plant heads with a bamboo stick. This is an arduous task calling for much manpower. However, for ecological reasons the Government has decided against aerial spraying with herbicides.

Over the past six years over 40,000 acres of opium poppy have been destroyed by these means (see table 1). This is no mean achievement and represents a significant reduction in the amount of opium which might otherwise have found its way on to the international market in the form of heroin.

A considerable number of marijuana plants have also been destroyed (see table 2). Table 3 indicates the total number of seizures and the amount of narcotics seized between 1974 and 1980.

Table I

Annual eradication of illegal poppy plantations a

 

Annual eradicated acreage

 

Region

1974-75 b

1975- 76 b

1976- 77 b

1977- 78 b

1978- 79 b

1979- 80 b

1980- 81 b (until 4 January)

Total

Shan State
333.0 8039.8 8104.6 10206.7 3881.7 4471.4 3567.8 38605.3
Kachin State
-
118.0 228.8 87.4 59.8 288.5
-
782.5
Kaya State
-
77.5 190.0
-
-
-
-
267.5
Chin State
199.5 724.0 41.5 10.6 14.2 24.6
-
1014.5
Sagaing Division
-
0.4
-
7.0
-
-
-
7.4
Mahwe Division
-
-
14.0
-
12.7
-
-
26.7
Mandalay Division
-
349.5 190.5
-
1.0
-
-
541.0
Total
532.5 9309.2 8769.4 10311.7 3969.4 4784.5 3567.8
41244.9

From: Government of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma 11 Phase project proposal for drug abuse control through law enforcement.

bRefers to the growing season of the two years.

Table 2

Annual eradication of cannabis 1975-1980 a

 

Total number of plants eradicated during the year

 

Area

1975

1976

1977

1978

1979

1980

Total

Pegu Division
79979 20971 261
l0512
679 7 112409
Kaya State
-
-
50
-
-
-
50
Karen State
-
6
-
-
-
-
6
Chin State
-
-
-
-
4
-
4
Magwe Division
-
115 9262 217 221 60 9875
Mandalay Division
-
-
200 400
-
-
600
Mon State
-
-
-
-
74
-
74
Arakan State
-
-
650
-
-
-
650
Rangoon Division
-
15
-
-
-
13 28
Shah State
-
364 2 368
-
100
-
2832
lrrawaddy Division
-
802
-
3 14 41 860
Tennasseri
-
-
-
-
-
58 58
Total
79979 22273 12791 11132 1092 179
127446

a From: Government of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma II Phase project proposal for drug abuse control through law enforcement.

Table 3

Total number of seizures and the amount of narcotics seized 1974- 1980 a

 

1974

1975

1976

1977

1978

1979

1980

1974 to 1980

Drug

No.

kg

No.

kg

No.

kg

No.

kg

No.

kg

No.

kg

No.

kg

No.

kg

Opium
1403 5198 1371 3886 1871 5553 2189 4780 1983 5986 1141 1938 835 720.70 10793 28061.70
Heroin
204 60 350 47 1011 67 1208 72 1748 115 1073 64 536 55.35 6130 480.35
Morphine
1 104
-
-
-
-
1 29
-
-
-
-
-
-
2 133.00
Cannabis
270 678 309 665 461 2211 449 400 696 269 430 124 292 269.01 2907 2625.01
Others
17
-
148
-
415
-
1404
-
1034
-
1719
-
832
-
5569
-
Total
1095 6040 2178 4598 3758 5840 5251 5281 5461 6370 4363 2126 2495 1045.06 25401
31300.06

a From: Government of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma II Phase project proposal for drug abuse control through law enforcement.

Although not assisted under the United Nations programme, the Burmese army was also involved in these operations, particularly in the insurgent-held areas. The army was also involved in locating and capturing the clandestine heroin-making laboratories on the Burma and Thai border. It was successful in putting many of them out of business. This was a difficult task as the makeshift laboratories were well hidden in isolated terrain and protected by well-armed insurgent groups. The heroin-making equipment was somewhat primitive, but with the aid of chemicals and supplies smuggled into the country, plus highly skilled expatriate chemists, it was possible for them to produce heroin of high purity - the so-called "No. 4". Raw opium was brought to these morphine and heroin-making centres by pack animals, usually mules, through a labyrinth of jungle trails. Roads are virtually non-existent throughout the region. When under the threat of attack, the equipment can be quickly moved to another hidden location, and the manufactured heroin quickly smuggled across the border, out of reach of the attacking force. Operations against these clandestine border laboratories can only be mounted during the dry season and are always fraught with considerable danger and difficulties. These operations have not resulted in large hauls of illicit drugs but have yielded substantial quantities of acetic anhydride, other chemicals and assorted heroin-making equipment. Furthermore, the raids and Thai co-operation in prohibiting the movement of acetylizing agents in northern Thailand are now making the manufacture of heroin in the area more hazardous for those engaged in this nefarious business.

The final objective of eliminating the production of illicit opium and its derivatives is obviously of prime importance. This is the task of the law enforcement agencies.

Crop substitution

It has been stated, and it is widely agreed, that the hill tribe people who grow the opium poppy are not the real villains of the piece. In accepting this opinion there is a responsibility to assist them in the establishment of alternative sources of income. The Government of Burma has also accepted this view. The Ministry of Agriculture, through the Agricultural Corporation and the Livestock Development and Marketing Corporation, have embarked on an extensive programme with the aim of encouraging and supporting the hill people to develop the cultivation of different and legal forms of agriculture suitable to the soil and climate.

This presents considerable problems, not least those associated with transport and marketing. Cash crops can only reach the market on the backs of men or pack animals. This calls for products with high value and low weight and bulk or, alternatively, having the capacity to reach the market on their own, i. e. livestock. However, high value products may not be saleable locally and may call for some new form of marketing support geared to a national or export market. It is clear that the production of opium was a convenient source of income for those living in this remote and isolated region.

Donkeys, from the UNFDAC-assisted project in the Shan State, exhibited in the Mechanised Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Exhibition in Rangoon, 30 April to 5 May 1979

Full size image: 97 kB, Donkeys, from the UNFDAC-assisted project in the Shan State, exhibited in the Mechanised Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Exhibition in Rangoon, 30 April to 5 May 1979

The strategy of the Government was first directed towards providing assistance for the expansion of consumption crops. The meeting of essential food requirements merited top priority. To achieve this objective there was extensive distribution of improved strains of hill rice seed, vegetable seeds and oil-bearing plants suitable for the upland areas. On a smaller scale, seedlings of various fruit trees were made available, as well as nuts and spices. Substitute crops were planted on 46,000 acres in the four years from 1976 to 1980, 8,500 baskets of seeds were distributed, and over half a million transplants were provided. Acreages of individual crops planted during 1979-1980 are shown in table 4. Modern beekeeping is also being introduced as a substitute for sugar, another essential consumption need.

The introduction of alternative cash crops and livestock raising has advanced more slowly. This is the second stage in the effort to transform local agriculture, and it requires careful preparation to ensure permanent success. The failure of newly introduced crops is not to be contemplated due to the resistance to change that such failure can set up in the minds of the cultivators. Some crops are grown already and are known to do well in the hill regions. In some places where the poppy was formerly cultivated, the growers have already turned to increased acreages of coffee, tea, cheroot leaves etc., without waiting for government assistance. There are limits, however, to the profitable expansion of tea and cheroot leaves, for example, as a substantial increase in acreage is

Table 4

Agriculture sector crop substitution 1979-1980 a

Annual crops

Acres

Perennial crops

Acres

Paddy
8970
Coffee
105
Maize
2283
Orange
77
Groundnuts
519
Tea
60
Soya beans
516
Cheroot leaves
32
Sesame
146
Pears
20
Sunflower
145
Ngapi fruit
14
Safflower
145
Avocado
11
Vegetables
132
Sweet lime
5
Green peas
82
Lychee
1
Other pulses
60
Total
324
Saffron
10    
Garlic
0.5    
Mustard
20    
Potatoes
120    
Total
13148.5    

aSource of data: Progress report No. 8.

One of 44 power tillers for crop substitution in Shan State

Full size image: 75 kB, One of 44 power tillers for crop substitution in Shan State

likely to lead to lower prices. The market is limited to Burmese consumption for such crops. Coffee, in spite of considerable fluctuations in price, has an export market potential, and cultivation on a wider scale is being encouraged. The United Nations programme has provided quantities of high-yield seeds of rust-free arabica coffee varieties. Seedlings are being produced on a number of base farms in Shan State, preparatory to distribution as a permanent crop in former poppy fields.

However, it will be a number of years before commercial harvests can be gathered, and this stresses the importance of the priority being given to the production of subsistence crops for local consumption.

With United Nations support and assistance extensive trials were undertaken on a wide variety of spices, essential oils and medicinal plants, all of which meet the criterion of high value for low weight. Nearly all of them have the potential for providing the grower with a higher income per acre than the poppy. However, large acreages of any one crop cannot be contemplated due to market limitations. The production of pure strain vegetable and flower seeds offers a further possibility which is being explored. This calls for close professional contact between the grower and the seed merchants, a requirement not easily met at present in Shan State.

The development of pig and cattle raising shows promise but progress in the first phase has been slow. The establishment of permanent pastures on steeply inclined former poppy fields will help to prevent soil erosion and to maintain fertility. There is a profitable national market for meat, and as indicated earlier, the possibility of driving cattle and pigs to the market along the jungle trails.

The programme has assisted in the establishment of a special livestock farm at Heho in the centre of Shah State, and has provided equipment and has imported an airfreight load of pure-bred Friesian cattle and large white pigs for breeding with local stock. The progeny are to be made available to former poppy growers who opt for livestock farming. The Heho farm is also equipped to raise upgraded chickens to improve the quality of local varieties, and facilities are available for the hill farmers for residential training courses in animal husbandry.

The resources at the disposal of the agricultural authorities have been severely stretched in their attempt to carry out the necessary extension work in a large and isolated area, equipped as it is with poor communications. Little short of an agricultural revolution is involved in promoting the necessary changes in cultivation practices. Commendable progress has been made in view of the many difficulties, only a few of which have been touched upon. So far; no farmers have reverted to poppy growing as a result of failure in newly introduced crops.

A change in emphasis is planned in the next phase whereby crop substitution efforts will be concentrated in selected areas where poppy growing has been extensive and where help in the promotion of alternative crops is most urgently needed. With this factor in mind, four multi-purpose demonstration farms are in the process of development. They will have facilities for short-term training in agriculture, horticulture and animal husbandry. These sites will also be centres for the treatment and rehabilitation of local drug abusers (mostly opium) as well as educational activities. In essence these farms will be comprehensive drug abuse control centres on a local scale at the source of the problem.

Treatment and rehabilitation

Treatment and rehabilitation are the responsibilities of different Ministries, but they are essentially two aspects of a single problem - the removal of an urge to abuse narcotic drugs. There is a need to treat both the physical compulsion and the psychological attraction. Doctors have readily agreed that it is usually quite simple to treat the former successfully, but that complete rehabilitation is a much more difficult and complex task.

As in other countries with drug problems, the relapse rate in Burma is high and is estimated at between 70 per cent and 80 per cent. The treatment and detoxification centres continually have to deal with patients returning for the second, third and fourth times and this imposes a considerable strain on the medical resources of a comparatively poor country. While the "cold turkey" approach is sometimes used, the major form of treatment is the provision of medicine to alleviate the initial symptoms of withdrawal. This appears to work quite well in Burma and detoxification is usually completed within four weeks. Patients are in complete confinement for the first two weeks, and this is followed by a further two weeks in semi-confinement when games and physical exercise are encouraged. After release, patients are legally obliged to report regularly for urine tests. They are not de-registered until the medical staff are satisfied that they have been completely drug-free for a period of several months. Drug abusers who fail to register and to undergo treatment are liable to arrest and imprisonment.

The main thrust of United Nations assistance has been towards improving the physical facilities for treatment in the worse affected areas, i.e. at Rangoon and in the major towns. Funds were made available for restoration work which was urgently needed; at Rangoon, two old buildings in the psychiatric hospital were walled off to provide a separate compound for a new administrative and research unit. Equipment was provided as well as regular medical supplies. Support was also given to the drug analysis unit of the National Health Laboratory (NHL) for repair work and for the supply of modern scientific equipment. The NHL and the CID laboratory are the only ones authorized by the courts to undertake forensic work, and both are now able to undertake the full analysis of drugs in body fluids.

The programme was scheduled to assist in the provision of a drug treatment centre in Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State. However, the hospital authorities were approached by a group of parents of young drug abusers who undertook to raise funds among themselves for such a centre in the grounds of the hospital.

CID Laboratory, Rangoon, Unit for Drug Analysis

Full size image: 109 kB, CID Laboratory, Rangoon, Unit for Drug Analysis

This effort was successful and resulted in a model purpose-built treatment facility without the need for either government or United Nations help.

The major role of the Social Welfare Department has been to provide a relapse-prevention and rehabilitation service for detoxified drug abusers following discharge from the residential treatment centres. It soon became apparent that social welfare officers, who worked with ex-addicts, were also in a good position to identify and persuade other drug abusers to come forward and to register in conformity with legal requirements thus lessening the number of those liable to arrest and punitive treatment. This added a second task which is showing promising results.

As indicated, the full rehabilitation of drug abusers is extremely difficult and fraught with problems. Detoxified patients, free from the purely physical urge to abuse drugs, still face acute, if not chronic, difficulties in their efforts to overcome their psychological dependence and to adapt to a drug-free life.

A strong will and motivation towards this purpose are essential, but these are usually not enough. Much depends on influences at work and in the social environment. The prognosis for young Burmese ex-heroin abusers is more promising when appropriate job opportunities are immediately available and when a change of residence can be made. Many relapses appear to occur when the persons concerned are unemployed and return, after treatment, to associate with former "drug scene" friends.

Broadly speaking, heroin addicts in Burma fall into two categories: (a) college or university male students (female addicts are rare) from well-established and orthodox Buddhist families, (b) grown-up sons of traders and merchants, often with "black market" connections. In the first case there is an element of revolt against orthodoxy combined with frustration over the lack of appropriate job opportunities. In the second, a possible connection with the world of semi-legal and illegal trading where access to heroin is not difficult.

Over the past five years the programme has supported the Social Welfare Ministry in the recruitment and training of 60 social workers who have been assigned to the major towns most affected by the drug menace. A growing network of rehabilitation centres is appearing with differing emphases in their programmes of activities. They are somewhat experimental in nature. For example, the first centre in Kengtung is a vocational training establishment designed to train former addicts with a local skill in great demand. Two others have been established in rural areas where the teaching of agricultural skills has been included in the training programme. Others concentrate on social support either through residential facilities, or as "drop-in" centres with sport and recreational activities. Some detoxified drug abusers are assigned to live in houses for delinquent children, for orphans or for the physically disabled.

In Burma, the approach to drug rehabilitation is at an experimental stage and a variety of methods is being tried. It is too early to pass judgement on the effectiveness of one form of treatment compared with another but it seems likely that a number of alternative therapeutic programmes will continue to be needed, depending on the particular requirements of different individuals. The Social Welfare authorities are continuously reviewing progress and in this process they have the support and guidance of a visiting consultant from the rehabilitation unit of ILO.

Preventive measures

While Burma is determinedly combating the production and illegal trafficking in heroin etc., and is taking steps to cure those afflicted by drug addiction, there is a need to take all the necessary steps to minimize, if not to eradicate, the disease itself. This need has not been overlooked, and preventive measures form an integral part of the total programme, which is supported by the United Nations.

The Ministry of Information controls the mass media in Burma: newspapers, magazines, films, radio and television. The Ministry is in a unique position to publicize the dangers of drug abuse and to provide information on the Government's campaign. Nearly every day there is some reference to illicit drugs in newspapers, and editorials and news articles regularly appear. Major events involving drug abuse are broadcast on the radio, as well as regular talks on the problem. The country enjoys a high degree of literacy and reading is popular. A considerable variety of magazines enjoy wide circulation, particularly in the towns. The cinema is by far the most popular form of entertainment, and it is widely used to get the drug message across with the aid of documentary films. Over the past few years a series of short films have been produced which are shown on the same programme as the regular feature films. The United Nations contributed a modern movie camera and a press for printing leaflets and booklets, backed up with appropriate supplies and supplementary equipment.

A national education programme to deter children from experimenting with drugs has been directed towards the secondary schools. This campaign is based on scare tactics but has involved the children in competitive projects in an imaginative way.

Prizes are offered annually for the best posters, cartoons, essays, songs and poems on the theme of drugs. These are judged at the school, township, divisional and finally at the national level. The best from throughout the country are exhibited in Rangoon, and the best entries are subsequently used as illustrative material in magazines etc.

Burma is well known for its festivals and fairs, nearly all of which now feature an anti-narcotic stall where a selection of children's work is on display. Occasionally the United Nations Information Centre organizes exhibitions in Rangoon and elsewhere to celebrate United Nations Day and such events include a display at which this youthful talent finds an additional outlet. Some of

A woman with her children working in the potato field

Full size image: 110 kB, A woman with her children working in the potato field

the prize-winning posters with a particularly penetrating message were printed and were made available for wider distribution in schools, colleges and public places.

The authorities agree that the concentration of effort at the secondary-school level is the most effective. Drug education in colleges and universities and among the youth organizations is less obtrusive.

A further approach was the expansion of facilities for out-of-school activities. This includes sports and games, music, and pursuits such as carpentry and gardening. Priority has been given to schools in areas where illicit drug taking is known to be prevalent. The United Nations has supported this aspect of the programme with the provision of basic equipment.

The subject of drug education is one of continuous debate. Some critics believe the use of scare tactics and intensive campaigns are self-defeating. However, the approach is culture-related and only the Burmese people can decide what is the most appropriate method. It is recognized that an early assessment cannot be given, except that as a result of the campaign there are few Burmese schoolchildren who are not aware of the dangers of drug abuse. This extensive educational effort is strongly reinforced by their parents, as drug abuse is far from accepted or tolerated in Burmese Buddhist society.

The use of opium as a cure-all medicine among the isolated hill tribe people in the poppy growing areas is likely to continue; this will give rise to addiction until primary health care centres are more extensively introduced. Plans for such centres will be put into execution during the second phase of the programme.

Conclusions

It is impossible to give accurate statistical evidence of the progress made in the control of illicit narcotic drugs over the past five years. Acreages of poppy fields destroyed, the weight of narcotic substances seized and the number of registered addicts are known, but benchmark figures are missing. However, information from various sources indicate that the poppy acreage and the production of opium have been halved. One has to bear in mind, however, that the yield per acre varies greatly from year to year. In the circumstances the progress is indicative of the energy devoted to the problem by the law enforcement authorities.

Progress in crop substitution is also not easy to determine. More assistance has been given to the distribution of seeds etc. for subsistence crops than to the permanent establishment of alternative market products. Nevertheless, it is known that many hill tribe farmers have changed over from poppy growing to other plants without recourse to government services. Only minor research has been done on the changing patterns of agriculture in the regions concerned and it would appear that no significant increase in agricultural products on the market has been noted. In some cases it is known that farmers with a valley holding have merely stopped growing poppy as an "extra" in small hillside jungle clearings. The destruction policy is a strong disincentive to the continuance of such a practice. The family income may be reduced temporarily but can usually be restored by more intensive cultivation of the legitimate agricultural holding.

Agricultural assistance from the Government is urgently required by the hill tribe people who have relied, in the past, on the cultivation of the poppy and for whom crop destruction is a devastating economic blow. The culture of these people is based on a semi-nomadic life in the forest-clad hills and they have no desire to move to a lower altitude. Attempts in other countries to enforce migration into more populated valleys have been unsuccessful and the Government wisely recognizes this. However, as indicated, it is not an easy task to bring about major changes in patterns of cultivation. The continuing development of demonstration centres combined with extension work should be helpful, and it is recommended that this should be combined with further field studies in pilot areas to guide the planning of crop substitution in an acceptable form

Experience of work with rural communities in many parts of the world has demonstrated that when agricultural changes are to be promoted, attention must also be given to all other aspects of community life. Changes in cropping lead to a disturbance of day-to-day living patterns. The consequences of this are changes in both internal and external community relationships and to the barter economy, where it exists. The situation can usually be ameliorated by the introduction of basic health services and the establishment of primary schools. The elimination of poppy growing is a legal requirement, but the resulting social changes are best guided by common consent if they are to be achieved without rancour and resistance.

The main task of preventing the production of opium cannot be satisfactorily completed by law enforcement alone. Skilled advisory work by agricultural and other agencies is essential. A sound beginning was made during the first phase; further comprehensive work along the lines indicated will be undertaken during the period which lies ahead.

A considerable attempt to reduce demand through the treatment and rehabilitation of drug abusers, especially of heroin addicts, has been made during the period under review. The epidemic of heroin abuse, which came to light in 1974, has been contained, if not reduced. The legal obligation to register and to undergo treatment is now widely recognized and understood. The supportive role of social workers in identifying drug abusers and encouraging them to come forward has been praiseworthy and effective. Facilities for treatment in the worst-affected urban areas have been substantially increased. Treatment methodology has to a large extent been standardized, and both doctors and nurses have received specialist training. A considerable measure of co-ordination with those responsible for rehabilitation has been achieved. Joint seminars have been organized to study common problems which arise in combating the high relapse rate among heroin abusers.

The Social Welfare Department has been successful in building up an excellent team of young rehabilitation workers who have steadily improved their skills. However, progress in the establishment of residential and day centres for detoxified drug abusers has been rather slow, due to the lack of suitable buildings which could be adapted and renovated for this purpose. It is thus too early to assess the value of their impact. The first such centre, entirely devoted to drug rehabilitation work, was not opened until early 1981. This is a vocational training institute in Kengtung, Eastern Shan State. Three others which opened later, with different characteristics, are now in operation. Earlier, detoxified drug abusers in urgent need of residential accommodation were assigned, under the charge of the Social Welfare Department, to homes for orphans, the disabled or young delinquents. Provided the total number is small, their inclusion in these homes works quite well. In fact, there are indications that living with such persons has a marked therapeutic effect. These approaches to rehabilitation are experimental in nature and the results over a period of time will be carefully observed.

The preventive measures taken through the educational and information services have already been discussed. The disease now appears to be stabilized, if not retreating. It remains to be seen what the long-term impact will be. There are obviously other forces at work within the society which have an influence on drug abuse. These include the decreasing availability of locally produced narcotics and a possible increase in the smuggled importation of manufactured psychotropic drugs. Increasing urbanization, industrial development and rising standards of living may also have an impact on drug abuse. However, it is expected that the wholehearted and energetic attack on the problem by the Government and people of Burma will continue to show beneficial results.

Bibliography

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Schoolchildren's prize-winning painting showing the destructiveness of opium

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"Farm of Death" - Exhibit at the Anti-Narcotics Exhibition in Madalay, 1979

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Shan States, Villagers destroying opium poppie during the 1979 Poppy Eradication Campaign, Burma People's Police officer explaining the reasons behind the Government's anti-poppy campaign to hill tribe people

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Highland rice now growing on terraces in Pinlaung formerly used for the cultivation of opium poppies

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