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Community based drug treatment strategy for Southeast Asia moves ahead

Bangkok (Thailand), 30 November 2016
- A high level drug policy symposium of ASEAN countries and China has today announced a package to strengthen community-based health services for people who use drugs. Developed following the commitment of nine countries of the region in 2015 - Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam - to move from compulsory detention treatment towards voluntary community-based treatment services, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) started work on a comprehensive training package to strengthen the capacity of community health centres to work with people who use drugs.

Governments estimate there are close to half a million people confined to compulsory drug treatment centres across Southeast Asia each year, usually for use or possession of methamphetamine. At the same time, the effectiveness of drug treatment in centres with prison like conditions has been called into question following clinical studies that do not show results.

Jeremy Douglas United Nations UN UNODC, Olivier Lermet, drug policy ASEAN

"Overcrowding in prisons and inadequate health services are a few consequences of the war on drugs approach that has been in place here the last fifteen or twenty years. We have not seen results and the country has decided to move forward in a different direction, balancing public health concerns and improving cooperation with neighbouring countries", said General Paiboon Koomchaya, Minister of Justice of Thailand. "Communities need to have capacity to deal with drug use, and the UNODC package is produced for this reason, for the community to address what is lacking. We need to mobilise resources to scale this up, and we need to promote the model."

At the centre of the effort is addressing the knowledge and capacity of community health providers in Southeast Asia who play a vital role delivering basic medical and counselling services. Based on the original Guidance for Community-Base Treatment and Care Services for People Affected by Drug Use and Dependence in Southeast Asia by UNODC, the package introduces community based treatment and care service concepts to those who have never before received training on substance use issues.

Olivier Lermet UN United Nations UNODC drug policy ASEAN

"The value lies in the practical implications for day-to-day service delivery", said Olivier Lermet, UNODC Regional Drugs and Health Advisor. "Welfare, community care and outreach workers, and others in frontline positions, will be better equipped to carry out their jobs and address patient needs. It is evidence-based and will result in more effective drug treatment and care, alleviating stresses on the community." Anand Chabungbam, a civil society representative advocating for better health and counselling services for people who use drugs, emphasized "voluntary community level health and counselling programmes for drug users are still very limited in the region, and they need to be expanded to help reintegration".

The focus on drug dependency as a health disorder to be addressed through the implementation of a comprehensive, integrated and balanced response, including community-based programmes, has been a focus of recent agreements of the Mekong MOU on Drug Control and the at the global level at the United Nations General Assembly, with political leaders from around the world, including Minister Koomchaya, agreeing about the need for a new approach.

The process to develop the package has successfully addressed political commitments of the Mekong MOU on Drug Control, ASEAN health and drug frameworks, and the UN General Assembly agreement, providing guidance and a way for government experts to come together to collaborate. Civil society organisations were also drawn in to discuss the transition from compulsory to community based treatment.

"The announcement of the package today is a practical step towards the implementation of what was agreed at the UN General Assembly and by ministers of the six Mekong countries", remarked Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. "Some of the countries in the region are starting to work towards a health-centred approach to drug policy that puts people first. We are ready to support adaptation to the national level along with the implementation of public health approaches, and to work with governments on the right policy mix. We anticipate better prospects for the region if the effort to address market demand can be scaled up and combined with a refocussing of law enforcement away from the street towards the organized crime behind the business. As Minister Koomchaya has said, we need to ensure the strategy is balanced."

Click here to learn more about UNODC's work on drugs and health.

Click here to learn more about the Mekong MOU on Drug Control.