Drug control policies in some parts of Asia


Overview of the drug problem in Asia
Review of drug control in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand
Some features of drug control measures in Asian countries
Concluding remarks


Pages: 35 to 49
Creation Date: 1992/01/01

Drug control policies in some parts of Asia

M. NISHIKAWA Former Professor, Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Tokyo


The Asian region has experienced drug problems ever since opium was exported to China in the eighteenth century. Today, in some parts of the region, high priority is placed on drug control policies relating, for example, to the eradication of opium poppy cultivation, criminal sanctions against drug trafficking, and treatment programmes for drug-dependent persons. Some good results have been achieved in recent years: according to estimates, opium cultivation in at least one country in the region has decreased; the number of new cases involving drug-dependent persons is falling in a number of countries; and major drug trafficking syndicates have been disbanded.

Overview of the drug problem in Asia

Historical background

Asian countries, especially China and its neighbouring countries, experienced the most serious and large-scale drug problem in history when, in the second half of the eighteenth century, the British East India Company gained a monopoly on the opium trade. A triangular trade relation was established: the British, who were the first to reap the benefits of the Industrial Revolution, exported machine-made cotton fabrics to India; India exported opium to China; and China exported tea to the British. That trade relation was maintained until the beginning of the twentieth century.

Confrontation between the British and Chinese Governments over attempts by the latter to prohibit opium trade and consumption escalated into the Opium War, which took place from 1839 to 1842. After the Opium War, opium exportation to China increased rapidly. The amount of opium exported to China from India increased from 3,008 tonnes in 1836 and to 3,900 tonnes in 1858 before reaching a peak of 6,752 tonnes in 1880 [ 1] .

After the failure of efforts to prohibit opium trafficking and consumption in China, opium-smoking spread. In the late nineteenth century, opium from south-west China began to compete with the opium imported from India. Domestic cultivation of the opium poppy in China continued until the middle of the twentieth century, when the Government of China prohibited the practice.

Opium produced in India was exported not only to China but also to Hong Kong and to what are today Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, where opium consumption was prevalent. Some of the opium produced in India was also used to meet domestic demand.

The British Government continued to support the lucrative opium trade with China, despite repeated attempts by some to put an end to it. It has been estimated that, at the end of the nineteenth century, per capita opium consumption in Britain was higher than that in colonial India and Burma (now called Myanmar) [ 2] . The Dangerous Drug Act of 1920 was the first attempt by the British to prohibit domestic opium consumption, which reached its peak during the First World War.

In 1909, the British attended the first international conference on the opium trade, held at Shanghai. In 1911, a second international conference was convened at The Hague to draft a convention embodying nine resolutions adopted by the first international conference. In 1912, that convention, the International Opium Convention, was signed by a representative of the British Government, as well as representatives of 11 other Governments, including those of China, Germany, Japan and the United States of America. In 1917, the exportation of opium to China from India came to an end.

Narcotic drug production, trafficking and consumption

Most of the opium consumed in the world is cultivated in Asia. Two of the main areas for the cultivation of the opium poppy are in South-East and South-West Asia. It has been estimated by the International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO/Interpol) that two Asian countries produce 600-700 tonnes of opium [ 3] . The opium and heroin produced in Asia are smuggled into other countries in Asia and into Europe and North America.

Heroin is the most widely consumed drug in many parts of Asia, as indicated by the following estimated figures for heroin-dependent persons [3-6]:

Hong Kong
38,310 a
114,400 b
6,500 c

a 1986.

bAccumulated total for the period 1970-1989.


Cannabis is cultivated or grows wild throughout Asia. It is the second most widely consumed drug in Asia. Stimulants, particularly amphetamines and methamphetamines, are consumed on a large scale in Japan.

Review of drug control in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand

After the Second World War, a wave of prosecutions led to strict legislation forbidding opium distribution and consumption in Asia. Such legislation took effect in Hong Kong and Singapore in 1946, in Thailand in

1959, and in Myanmar in 1965 [ 7] . In the 1970s, some of the neighbouring countries of the opium-cultivating areas placed high priority on drug control.

Presented below is a review of the drug control policies and their implementation in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand, based on reports received by the Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders [3,5 and 8].

Hong Kong

Government action

In Hong Kong, legislative controls over the use of opium and other narcotic drugs were established only after the Second World War. In the 1950s, as criminal organizations such as the triad societies grew and drug-related crimes involving the triad societies increased, drug problems had a greater impact on social and economic stability in Hong Kong.

In 1959, the government of. Hong Kong, in a white paper on narcotic drugs, revealed that there were 150,000-180,000 drug-dependent persons in Hong Kong. The government also created a Narcotics Advisory Committee to coordinate anti-narcotic programmes and advise it on policy matters related to drug abuse. The Committee was later replaced by the Action Committee against Narcotics.

Major treatment programmes for drug-dependent persons began in the 1960s. The Drug Addicts Treatment and Rehabilitation Ordinance was enacted in 1960. The Society for the Aid and Rehabilitation of Drug Abusers (SARDA) was established as an executive organization to provide voluntary in-patient treatment under the Ordinance. The Drug Addiction Treatment -Centre Ordinance, 1968, empowered the Commissioner of Prisons to provide compulsory, treatment for drug-dependent persons convicted of criminal offences.

A revised version, of the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance was enacted in 1969, providing enhanced penalties for serious drug offences. The maximum penalties for trafficking in or manufacturing dangerous drugs are life imprisonment and a fine of 5 million Hong Kong dollars.

The Central Registry of Drug Abuse was established in 1972. All data on drug abusers identified by the authorities are recorded in the Central Registry, thereby facilitating the assessment of the magnitude of drug abuse problems and the characteristics of drug abusers, as well as the monitoring of the success rates of various programmes.

Current situation

The estimated population of drug-dependent persons in Hong Kong drastically decreased from 150,000-180,000 in 1959 to 38,310 in 1985. The proportion of drug-dependent persons in the total population has been about 1 per cent since 1982. Of the 54,090 drug-dependent persons reported to the Central Registry between September 1976 and June 1986, 15,780 were not reported again during a five-year period.

Approach to the treatment of drug addiction

The level of authority or control to be exercised over drug-dependent persons during treatment often poses a dilemma. Drug-dependent persons frequently drop out of or have themselves discharged too early from voluntary treatment programmes. Although compulsory treatment programmes may keep poorly motivated drug-dependent persons in treatment, some people consider them to be an infringement of human rights.

Hong Kong has adopted a realistic approach to this dilemma by striking a balance: compulsory treatment programmes are strictly for drug-dependent persons convicted of criminal offences; all other drug-dependent persons may participate in voluntary treatment programmes.

Treatment modalities

Currently, 30 per cent of the known drug-dependent persons in Hong Kong are in the 21-30 age bracket. Because heroin is the primary drug of abuse of the vast majority of them (99 per cent),: treatment and rehabilitation programmes are geared to the treatment of heroin addiction. There are three primary treatment programmes in Hong Kong: a voluntary methadone treatment programme for out-patients, operated by the Medical and Health Department; a voluntary treatment programme for in-patients, administered by SARDA and subsidized by the government; and a compulsory programme at drug addiction treatment centres, supervised by the Correctional Services Department.

Voluntary methadone treatment programme for out-patients

The voluntary methadone treatment programme, launched in 1972, is for drug-dependent persons who do not wish to undergo institutional treatment. Some 75 per cent of the drug-dependent persons undergoing treatment are being treated in the 24 methadone clinics. Participants in the programme receive an amount of methadone that is reduced by 5-10 milligrams a week, thereby avoiding major withdrawal symptoms while gradually eliminating drug dependence.

Voluntary treatment programme for in-patients

The first voluntary in-patient treatment centre was established in 1963. At present,there are three such centres, three intake units, five regional social services centres and five halfway houses under the management of SARDA. The SARDA programme combines institutional treatment with a rehabilitation regimen of counselling and after-care services.

Compulsory programme at drug addiction treatment centres

Possession, use or consumption of drugs is a criminal offence in Hong Kong. The compulsory placement programme is for drug-dependent persons convicted of drug-related offences of a relatively minor nature. Under the Drug Addiction Treatment Centres Ordinance, a drug-dependent person found guilty of an offence punishable by incarceration may be sentenced by a court to detention in a drug addiction treatment centre. Sentences range from 2 to 12 months, followed by 12 months of after-care supervision. The period of detention is determined by individual progress and the likelihood of continued abstinence from narcotics following release. There are currently two treatment centres for males and one for females. The three centres are capable of treating a total of 1,150 patients.

Upon admission to a treatment centre, each patient receives a thorough medical examination; medical treatment is available for withdrawal symptoms. Each patient is also given regular medical examinations throughout the treatment period. The treatment centres combine psychological treatment, including individual and group counselling, with work therapy and a wide range of recreational activities. Clinical psychologists provide in-depth counselling focused on strengthening the ego and self-determination. Work programmes at the treatment centres are designed to cultivate good work habits and to promote self-confidence and a sense of responsibility.

A review board, chaired by a senior superintendent appointed by the Commissioner of Correctional Services, determines when a patient should be released from a treatment centre. Patients who participate actively in the treatment programme are usually released after about four months.

Those released from treatment centres must undergo statutory supervision by the Correctional Services Department for one year. The Department arranges for post-release employment, as well as temporary accommodations at a halfway house for those who have no other suitable accommodations. Family visits and crisis intervention by after-care officers help persons undergoing supervision to remain drug-free. Urinalysis is periodically used to ascertain whether such persons have, in spite of supervision, managed to relapse into drug use. Those found to have breached the conditions of supervision may be returned to a treatment centre.


Historical background

Drug abuse in Malaysia dates back to the early nineteenth century, when a great number of Chinese and Indians brought in by the British for employment in colonial enterprises were introduced to opium-smoking by labour contractors.

After 1910, the British colonial Government, through special government shops, exercised monopolistic control over the importation and sale of opium. Following an international conference on the opium trade, held at Geneva in 1924, the Government restricted the sale of opium to registered opium smokers. Starting in 1934, only persons referred by medical practitioners were allowed to purchase opium. In 1945, the ban on opium-smoking applied to those persons as well.

In 1952, the Malaysian Government consolidated various colonial-era laws on drugs into the Dangerous Drugs Act, which prohibited the use, possession, sale, manufacture, importation and exportation of all dangerous drugs. Enforcement of the Act resulted in a reduction in the level of drug abuse by the mid-1960s. When Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand became the ports of call of United States armed forces stationed in what is today Viet Nam, indulgence in cannabis resurfaced followed by heroin abuse a few years later. After the Viet Nam conflict, drug syndicates tried to find other markets for illicit drugs in countries in Europe and South-East Asia and in the United States. Illicit trafficking and drug abuse peaked in Malaysia in 1983.

Drug trafficking in Malaysia has, for the most part, been brought under control. The number of new cases involving drug-dependent persons has been declining; however, hard-core drug users, who comprise 40-60 per cent of the total population of drug-dependent persons in rehabilitation and custodial facilities, continue to pose a serious problem.

Approach to the drug problem

In 1983, the Cabinet Committee on Narcotics was replaced by an Anti- Narcotics Committee established under the National Security Council of the Prime Minister's Department, chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister. The Anti-Narcotics Committee is responsible for controlling and preventing drug abuse and illicit trafficking, in the country. The shift of responsibility to the National Security Council shows the high priority placed on the war against narcotics. An Anti-Narcotics Task Force was established to assist the Committee in coordinating the anti-narcotic activities of various agencies at the national, state and, district levels.

In the early 1970s, the Government of Malaysia launched a war against drug abuse and illicit trafficking. Its initial strategy primarily involved strengthening law enforcement. Since then, its strategy has placed more emphasis on primary prevention. In 1985, the Anti-Narcotics Committee drew up a national narcotics plan outlining objectives, strategies, programmes, implementation procedures, a system of evaluation and budgetary requirements. It has focused on primary prevention, particularly preventive education and public awareness; prevention of the entry of illicit drugs into the country and curtailment of the illicit drug supply within the country; rehabilitation programmes for drug-dependent persons, involving early detection, treatment and rehabilitation; staff development, research and programme evaluation; international cooperation; coordination of enforcement and prevention activities; and drug legislation.

Major drug-related legislation

The Dangerous Drugs Act of 1952 is one of the major ordinances regulating dangerous drugs in Malaysia. It establishes as punishable crimes drug-related activities such as the possession, importation, exportation, manufacturing or cultivation of cannabis, opium and coca plants, or trafficking therein. The Act has been amended frequently to keep pace with changing patterns of drug abuse and illicit trafficking, conferring broader powers on law enforcement agencies and providing harsher sanctions against persons convicted of such crimes. The 1983 amendments to the Act authorize police and customs officers to intercept postal articles and communications being sent by telephone or telegraph, subject to certain safeguards; establish that a person possessing 15 or more grams of heroin or morphine, or 1,000 or more grams of prepared opium, is trafficking in those drugs until the contrary is proven; and provide a mandatory death penalty for the offence of trafficking in dangerous drugs. The 1986 amendment to the Act authorizes the whipping of persons convicted of possessing small amounts of illicit drugs.

The Drug Dependents (Treatment and Rehabilitation) Act, enacted in 1983, establishes treatment and rehabilitation programmes for drug-dependent persons. It authorizes compulsory treatment by order of a magistrate, based on medical observations. Under this Act, drug-dependent adults may enter voluntary treatment and rehabilitation programmes and juveniles seeking rehabilitation may be committed to such programmes by their guardians.

The Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measure) Act, 1985, is directed at drug traffickers who have benefited from loopholes in earlier statutes, particularly the leaders or financial backers of drug trafficking operations. It authorizes the arrest and preventive detention, on the basis of an administrative order issued by the Minister of Home Affairs, of persons associated with any activity relating to or involving illicit trafficking in dangerous drugs. The initial period of detention is two years, but two-year extensions are also provided for.

Persons subjected to an order of detention or restriction issued by the Minister may lodge objections with a three-member Advisory Board chaired by a judge of either the High Court or the Supreme Court, joined by two other members nominated by the King of Malaysia. The Advisory Board submits its recommendations to the King, who in turn issues whatever directives he sees fit to the Minister who authorized the detention.

Another piece of legislation authorizing preventive detention is the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance, 1969, which is aimed at maintaining public order, suppressing violence and preventing violent crimes. Under its provisions, the Minister of Home Affairs can order a person detained for a period not to exceed two years if he considers the person's activities to be detrimental to public order. Since 1975, the Ordinance has applied to drug traffickers as well.

Law enforcement

Four law enforcement agencies are responsible for the suppression of drug- related activities: the police, the Customs and Excise Department, the Pharmacy Division of the Ministry of Health, and the Border Anti-Smuggling Unit (UPP). UPP is comprised of personnel drawn from the police, the Customs and Excise Department, the Immigration Department and the National Padi and Rice Board. Its main task is to interdict smuggling activities in border areas.

The Royal Malaysian Police maintains a special relationship with the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) of Thailand. They hold bilateral meetings twice annually. The Royal Malaysian Police has established a special unit along the Malaysian-Thai border to maintain liaison at the operational level with ONCB in southern Thailand and to pursue drug traffickers. Investigations undertaken jointly with ONCB have culminated in the arrest of a number of persons engaged in large-scale drug trafficking in both countries and the seizure of sizeable consignments of illicit drugs. The Royal Malaysian Police also maintains a similar working relationship with the Central Narcotics Bureau of Singapore.

Drug abuse education and information

The Ministry of Education has initiated several training programmes, which include a course for newly appointed school counsellors and in-service training for teachers in drug prevention education. The Ministry has established a committee of experts to develop school curriculum and has appointed a special officer at each of the state education offices to implement and coordinate drug prevention education in schools.

Since 1983, the Ministry of Information has conducted a national campaign against drug abuse that utilizes the media, particularly newspapers, television and cinema. To enlist the participation of as many community groups as possible, the Deputy Prime Minister has held discussions with influential groups, including mass media executives, religious leaders, leaders of youth organizations and managing directors of private companies.

Treatment of drug-dependent persons

The Drug Dependents Act of 1983 provides for compulsory and voluntary treatment and rehabilitation programmes for drug-dependent persons. The Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs operates seven rehabilitation centres, capable of treating a total of 2,050 patients. Private organizations provide institutional drug rehabilitation services to an additional 480 persons.

A magistrate may order a drug-dependent person to be committed to a rehabilitation centre for two years or to undergo probationary supervision for two or three years. Treatment programmes involve detoxification, examination and care for the illness, counselling, social and vocational training, and work therapy. After the detention period, a programme of supervision and after-care is conducted for two or three years. The Prison Department administers a similar rehabilitation programme for drug-dependent persons in custodial facilities.


Historical background

In the middle of the nineteenth century, Chinese merchants began trading in Thailand, bringing with them the practice of smoking opium. To offset the pressure of foreign trade and to curb internal trafficking in opium, King Rama IV of Thailand decided to limit opium trade and consumption within the country. A high tax on the opium trade and strict law enforcement control were imposed. That policy, however, did not work well. In the late nineteenth century, hill-tribes migrated into northern Thailand, where they introduced opium poppy cultivation.

In 1958, the smoking and sale of opium were abolished in Thailand. In 1976, the Narcotics Control Act was promulgated. As a result, the Narcotics Control Board and the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) were established. The Board is chaired by the Prime Minister and Composed of six ex officio members (the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Education, the Minister of Public Health, the Director-General of the Police, the Director- General of Customs and the Director-General of Public prosecution) and other members. ONCB, an agency operating under the Office of the Prime Minister, acts as a central coordinating body for drug control.

Current situation

Although not eradicated completely, opium poppy cultivation in Thailand has not drastically increased in recent years. There are indications that the rate of increase of drug addiction has slowed down in the country.

There are currently an estimated 400,000 drug-dependent persons in Thailand. About 75 per cent of the drug-dependent persons who have applied for treatment are aged 21-35. The main drug of consumption is heroin. Opium, cannabis, amphetamines and volatile substances are also abused.

Drug control policies

Current government policy is strongly against drug abuse and illicit trafficking. The drug problem has been given one of the highest priorities, as evidenced by the fact that policy guidelines on narcotics control, formulated by ONCB, have been integrated into the sixth national socioeconomic development plan.

Narcotics law enforcement

The number of persons arrested for drug offences increased from 11,803 in 1977 to 36,618 in 1985. There were similar increases in the amount of illicit drugs seized in that period (120.67 kg of opium seized in 1977, compared with 1,450 kg in 1985; and 380.89 kg of heroin seized in 1977, compared with 1,282 kg in 1985).

Narcotics cultivation control

Cultivation of the opium poppy by the hill-tribes in the northern part of the country near the borders of the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Myanmar is supported and protected by local drug lords. In the period 1982-1983, the area under opium poppy cultivation in Thailand, estimated at 12,306 acres, yielded about 30 tonnes of opium.

Because opium is the only source of income of many of the hill-tribes, opium poppy cultivation cannot be eradicated without crop replacement and highland development programmes. Current programmes emphasize welfare services and development for the hill-tribes by promoting the cultivation of cash crops and improving their standard of living.

The following are among the major projects that have been implemented:

  1. Highland Agricultural Marketing and Production Project, 1969-1975 and 1976-1984 (with the support of the United Nations);

  2. Thai-Norwegian Church Aid Highland Development. Project, 1985-1989;

  3. Thai-German Highland Development Programme, 1981-1991;

  4. Projects under the assistance of the Narcotics Assistance Unit of the United States;

  5. Mae-Chaem Watershed Development Project, 1980-1987; 09 Thai-Canadian Highland Development Project;

  6. Arabic Research and Experiment Center (with support of the Netherlands).

Agencies such as the Army, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Public Health are responsible for the implementation of the projects and ONCB acts as coordinator. Many programmes receive assistance from countries such as Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the United States. The former United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control provided assistance in two crop replacement projects in the periods 1973-1979 and 1980-1984. The first project encouraged the hill-tribes to grow cash crops such as coffee, potatoes, beans and other vegetables instead of the opium poppy and resulted in improvements being made in housing, irrigation and public health. The second project provided agricultural loans and marketing for products of hill-tribes. Training was provided in the use of agricultural techniques and in the construction of schools, rice-banks and facilities for storing products.

Drug education and information

Drug prevention programmes provide education to five target groups: parents, in-school youth, out-of-school youth, hill-tribe members and the general public. General information is disseminated to the relevant agencies and to the public at large through inter alia, radio and television programmes, slide presentations, short movies, articles and posters. Training is provided to key persons in the community to disseminate information on drug prevention. Numerous activities are aimed at promoting the constructive use of young people's leisure time, through sports, other forms of recreation, and vocational training.

ONCB has prepared information for parents, out-of-school youth and communities and has distributed it to community leaders. As for in-school youth, under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, information on the dangers of drug abuse is being integrated into school curricula at all levels. The Ministry of Public Welfare and the Ministry of the Interior regularly organize training in promoting awareness among the hill-tribes of illicit drug consumption.

Treatment of drug-dependent persons

The consumption of any illicit drug is an offence in Thailand. Drug-dependent persons are exempt from punishment, however, if they apply for treatment before being discovered by the police and obtain a certificate from a competent official after completion of treatment.

The Department of Medical Services of the Ministry of Public Health is responsible for the treatment and rehabilitation of drug-dependent persons. Of the 102 treatment centres, 84 are operated by the Government and the rest are run by the private sector. The number of drug-dependent persons who applied for treatment in the centres increased from 19,289 in 1978 to 52,593 in 1985. Treatment programmes carried out by order of the Ministry of Public Health are divided into four stages: pre-admission (five days), detoxification (less than 45 days), rehabilitation (180 days) and after-care (one year).

Six correctional facilities under the Department of Corrections of the Ministry of Interior provide treatment programmes for drug-dependent persons sentenced by a court to terms of imprisonment or of probation after having been convicted of drug-related offences. The Central Probation Office, under the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for the supervision of persons on probation. The Central Observation and Protection Center is responsible for juveniles who have committed drug-related offences.

Some features of drug control measures in Asian countries

High priority given to drug control

In Asia, as in other regions, narcotics production invariably generates corruption, increased criminal activity, violence and intimidation. Criminal organizations trafficking in illicit drugs can eventually become so powerful that they may threaten the peace and stability of a subregion. Moreover, the young are particularly vulnerable to drug abuse.

In Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, there are strict government policies against drug abuse and illicit trafficking. Drug control measures have been given high priority since the 1970s, when heroin abuse began appearing in the region. In the 1970s, for example, Hong Kong began developing various forms of treatment for drug-dependent persons. In the early 1970s, Malaysia launched its war against drug use and illicit trafficking, strengthening law enforcement and tightening legislation. In 1977, the Government of Singapore began a nation-wide campaign against drug abuse called "Operation Ferret". And in 1976, Thailand established the Narcotics Control Board, which drew up policy guidelines on narcotics control that were integrated into the sixth national socioeconomic development plan.

Two-pronged strategy to reduce illicit drug supply and demand

In Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, the drug problem is approached from the demand as well as the supply side. In one of the reports of the Central Narcotics Bureau of Singapore it is stated that:

"In the mid-1970s, [Singaporean] authorities examined the methods currently used by other countries to counter their drug abuse problems and concluded that most had been unsuccessful in their efforts. The underlying reason appeared to be that they concentrated on shutting off sources of supply by moving against drug traffickers; they devoted little attention to addicts themselves. The [Singaporean] Government, however, realized that if addicts were ignored, their numbers would multiply, with a consequent increased demand for illicit drugs. Whenever demand increases, a correspondingly increased number of drug traffickers appear to satisfy the lucrative drug trade. Therefore, the Government was convinced that, to arrest the country's drug menace effectively, it had to work simultaneously on supply and demand reduction" [ 6] .

Drug control is planned in a comprehensive and integrated manner, focusing on the following elements: (a) reduction of illicit drug production an manufacture, especially eradication of opium poppy cultivation; (b) law enforcement by arresting, prosecuting and punishing drug traffickers; (c) treatment and rehabilitation of drug-dependent persons; and (d) promotion of awareness in the community, especially among youth, of the dangers of drug abuse.

Establishment of a central body for policy-making and coordination

The design and implementation of comprehensive measures to combat drug problems require the active involvement of various governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations. In order to improve coordination among those agencies and organizations, a central coordinating body is often established. In Hong Kong, the central coordinating body is the Action Committee against Narcotics; in Malaysia, the Anti-Narcotics Committee; in Singapore, the National Drug Co-ordination Committee 'and the Central Narcotics Bureau; and in Thailand, the Narcotics Control Board and ONCB.

Efforts at eradicating opium poppy cultivation

Plants used to produce narcotic drugs are often cultivated in remote, mountainous areas that are sometimes controlled by anti-government forces or inhabited by ethnic minorities who have migrated from other countries.

In Thailand, the areas in which the opium poppy is cultivated usually do not have adequate infrastructure, such as roads, water supply, electricty and communication facilities. For that reason, it is difficult to introduce new sources of income. Often the national education and welfare system has not developed to the point that it is able to reach such areas. As a result, living, educational and welfare standards in those areas are often below those of the rest of the country. Efforts to eradicate opium poppy cultivation have focused on replacing opium poppy by other cash crops and on developing infrastructure.

Policies against illicit drug trafficking

Harsh punishment for drug traffickers

In many parts of Asia, it is assumed that harsh punishment for drug-related offences will act as a deterrent. In Malaysia and Singapore, persons convicted of trafficking in dangerous drugs such as heroin receive mandatory death sentences. Malaysian courts sentenced to death more than 200 drug offenders a year. In Hong Kong and Thailand, those convicted of drug trafficking are sentenced to life imprisonment.

In most countries of the world, there are harsher punishments for possessing drugs for sale than for possessing drugs for personal consumption. In Malaysia and Singapore, a person in possession of 15 or more grams of heroin is considered to be trafficking, an offence punishable by death.

Preventive detention

Witnesses in major drug cases are often reluctant to testify in court. In Malaysia and Singapore, preventive detention have been introduced, enabling witnesses to record confidential statements. As a result, several major drug trafficking networks have been disrupted.

Other measures to prevent drug trafficking

In some parts of Asia, measures that mark a departure from usual criminal investigation procedure are occasionally used in conducting drug-related investigations. One example is the interception by police and customs officers in Malaysia of postal goods and of messages sent by telephone or telegraph.

In Hong Kong and Malaysia progress has been made in preparing legislature enabling the confiscation of drug traffickers' assets. In Malaysia, the Dangerous Drugs (Forfeiture of Property) Act 1988: (a) prohibits the use of any property inside or outside Malaysia for any transaction or activity connected with trafficking in dangerous drugs; (b) prohibits the use, ownership, possession, control etc. of any object traceable, attributable, relating to or involving drug trafficking, within or outside of Malaysia; and (c) provides for the seizure and forfeiture of all such property.

Treatment of drug-dependent persons

Drug abuse per se is punishable in most Asian countries. Treatment and rehabilitation for drug addiction have long been established in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Where heroin is the main drug of abuse, the treatment systems that have developed are mainly for heroin-dependent persons.

In many parts of Asia, the emphasis is on compulsory institutional treatment, with variations in the dispositions and facilities used. For example, in Thailand, compulsory institutional treatment is provided in prisons as part of the criminal sanction of imprisonment for drug abuse. In Hong Kong and Malaysia, treatment is ordered by a court and does not constitute imprisonment. In Singapore, the decision is made on an administrative basis by the Central Narcotics Board, and the treatment facilities are rehabilitation centres rather than prisons or hospitals. Treatment programmes are similar, particularly in respect of medical examinations upon entry, detoxification, therapy, counselling and work programmes. After-care supervision is compulsory following release from the treatment institution. For persons who have been incarcerated for major drug offences or other offences and who cannot be referred to an outside treatment centre, similar treatment is, provided in prison.

In Thailand, drug-dependent persons on probation are encouraged to undergo treatment in a rehabilitation centre, under conditions specified by the court. At present, probationary supervision is in the development stage in Malaysia and Thailand, and volunteers are being used to assist drug-dependent persons with social reintegration.

Voluntary treatment is available and encouraged. Voluntary methadone treatment for out-patients is available in Hong Kong. The Central Registry of Drug Abuse in Hong Kong monitors the effectiveness of treatment through follow-up.

Education and information about the dangers of drug abuse

In Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand it is recognized that education about the harmful effects of drug abuse is the most effective long-term strategy against the drug problem. Programmes to raise public awareness of the dangers of drug-taking have been carried out since the Governments of those countries first began giving high priority to drug control policy. Youth is the main target group of such programmes. Information on the dangers of drug abuse is integrated into primary and secondary school curricula. In Thailand, hill-tribe members who cultivate the opium poppy constitute another important target group.

The implementation of such programmes requires the cooperation of various community groups and agencies. Bodies such as ONCB in Thailand play a crucial role in planning, coordinating and evaluating the programmes.

International cooperation in dealing with drug problems

International cooperation at all levels in dealing with drug problems is of the utmost importance. At the regional level, the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), to which Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand belong, has played a vital role in narcotics control. A meeting of ASEAN senior officials on drug matters is held every year to strengthen the close cooperation in drug control matters among ASEAN member States. An ASEAN Narcotics Desk Officer is responsible for encouraging such cooperation.

Each ASEAN member State has a contribution to make to their joint drug control efforts. For example, the training centre for the treatment of drug- dependent persons is in Malaysia; the centre for drug education is in the Philippines; and the centre for drug law enforcement is in Thailand. In addition, each member State organizes training courses on specific subjects.

Concluding remarks

Although comprehensive measures against illicit drugs have only recently been developed or expanded in several countries or areas in Asia, some good results have already been achieved: the estimated number of drug-dependent persons in Hong Kong has decreased; drug trafficking in Malaysia has been generally brought under control; in Singapore, major drug trafficking syndicates have been broken up; opium cultivation in Thailand has not increased in recent years; and in all the above-mentioned countries or areas the number of new cases of drug addiction has decreased.

The experience in the above-mentioned countries or areas shows that significant progress can be made in overcoming the drug problem if high priority is given to fighting drug abuse and illicit trafficking and if comprehensive drug control measures are implemented with the utmost determination.



Y. Kato, Igiris to Asia (Great Britain and Asia) (Tokyo, lwanami, 1980).


Ibid., p. 193.


Report on the International Seminar on Drug Problems in Asia and the Pacific Region (Tokyo, Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, 1987), pp. 43-50.


I. K. Bhagat and N. V. Nilsson, "The current drug situation in Hong Kong", Drug Control in Asia (Tokyo, Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, 1989), pp. 49-57.


P. Rogers, "Countermeasures against drug abuse in Malaysia", Drug Control in Asia (Tokyo, Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, 1989), pp. 92-103.


L. Yew, "Drug control in Singapore: an overview", Drug Control in Asia (Tokyo, Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, 1989), pp. 118 and 126.


Drugs and Punishment (Rome, United Nations Social Defence Research Institute, 1988), p. 62.


T. S. Mohd, "The current drug situation in Malaysia", Drug Control in Asia (Tokyo, Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, 1989), pp. 80-91.