Jakarta. Indonesia's anti-drug policies should focus on combating organized crime and implementing new treatment and prevention programs to curb rising narcotics use in the country, a United Nations regional representative said on Monday (17/04).
According to Jeremy Douglas of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, many nations struggle with shifting from well-established punitive measures to more prevention-orientated policies for narcotics-related offenses.
Since President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo took office in 2014, his administration has worked to enact tough anti-drug policies, issuing harsh penalties for individuals caught possessing drugs.
Indonesia also upholds the death penalty for severe drug offenders, a policy widely criticized by the international community and human rights activists.
While most countries in Southeast Asia still uphold the death penalty for drug-related crimes, Douglas cited existing data to prove that narcotics use in the region has only worsened in recent years, especially in regards to methamphetamine production and distribution.
"The death penalty has not deterred traffickers and organized crime, and sadly most of those who receive the death penalty are usually couriers," Douglas said in an interview with the Jakarta Globe.
He emphasized that people caught in possession of narcotics are usually low-level criminals, not major drug runners.
"Drug kingpins and members of organized crime syndicates — you never hear about them getting arrested. So where's the deterrent factor? You just don't see it," Douglas said.
In order to truly deter drug users and implement effective preventive measures, UNODC recommends governments enact a multi-pronged approach to combat the syndicates responsible for producing and distributing narcotics.
"That means the big kingpins; they have been operating in the region basically with immunity, and they have been for years — we don't even know their names," Douglas said.
Despite vast amounts of methamphetamine flowing into Southeast Asia, big names within the drug trafficking industry remain relatively unknown.
Treatment and Prevention
In order to halt increased narcotics use, governments must first provide drug users with safe and effective treatment options, according to UNODC.
The dedicated UN body also said the most effective treatment scenarios are voluntary, adding that governments that criminalize those seeking treatment will ultimately discourage users from quitting.
Douglas said community-based treatments – through health centers and existing networks – can be very effective, especially in countries that have well-established facilities.
Healthcare practitioners can be trained to identify different levels of addiction and provide treatment in accordance with a user's dependency.
"Most users – we estimate around 90 percent – do not need to actually live in their respective treatment centers. The majority can seek out-patient counseling on how to reduce their substance use," Douglas said.
Such focused efforts are more likely to generate positive results, according to UNODC. In addition, preventative measures adopted by communities, and even by national education systems, can be effective ways to combat rising substance abuse in the country.
Ultimately, the Jokowi administration should implement national drug policies specifically tailored to meet those needs and lessen punishments directed at those willing to seek treatment, Douglas said.
Reducing Drug Demand
Part of UNODC's core work in Indonesia is in assisting and supporting the government to address a number of key issues the country currently faces. Those include helping to eradicate high-level corruption, combat transnational organized crime, prevent future terrorist acts, improve criminal justice systems and respond to challenges presented by increased drug use and the spread of HIV.
However, reducing the demand for illegal drugs is one of UNODC's main focuses, to which Douglas attested that a national drug survey is required to fully understand the situation the country currently faces.
The results of such a survey, Douglas said, can help guide effective treatment and prevention programs unique to respective communities across the archipelago.
The adoption of new programs would see drug users screened through treatment facilities rather than being thrown in jail, Douglas said.
Nearly seventy percent of current inmates in Indonesia were charged on drug-related offenses, according to a 2015 study from think-tank Penal Reform International.
Douglas has served in his current position since 2013, overseeing and managing operations and strategies across Southeast Asia and the Pacific. He will attend an Asean-UN summit in Jakarta later this week.