Drug problems in Malaysia seem to be on the increase despite harsh penalties for those caught supplying the drug. Of particular concern is the growing popularity of methamphetamine – seizures of this substance in 2010 were the highest on record. For many years the main threat appeared to be from heroin. This continues to be the most widely abused drug in the country but other substances are catching up.
Up until the 1960s drug abuse in Malaysia mostly involved opium, and it was restricted to the Chinese immigrant population. By the 1980s the Malays had become the ethnic group in Malaysia that is most likely to abuse illegal drugs. Concerns for the rapid increase in heroin used were so high that the government decreed it was a national threat. This led to the creation of a national anti drug task force team along with a mandatory death sentence for anyone caught smuggling more than 15 grams of heroin. The government also decided that anyone caught using heroin would be forced to undergo compulsory addiction treatment. The ambition of the Malaysian government has been to completely eradicate drug problems by 2015, but the problem is in some ways getting worse.
Half of all illegal drug use in Malaysia involves heroin. Records from 2006 show there were 22,811 drug users who had been officially detected, and this is a drop from 2005 when there were 34,813 cases detected. The majority of drug users seem to live in Pulau Pinang and Kedah. It is believed that at least 1.1% of the Malaysian population is involved in illegal drug use.
The most commonly abused drugs in Malaysia include:
* Heroin is the most widely abused illegal drug in Malaysia.
* Methamphetamine is the second most widely abused drug in the country.
* There is a growing market for amphetamine type stimulants.
* Kratom comes from a tree that can be commonly found in South East Asia. The leaves can produce mild stimulant or opiate-type effects.
* Ecstasy (MDMA)
Drug addiction in Malaysia causes huge difficulties for the individual and their family. The main problems associated with such behavior include:
* The individual does not have to be using these substances for very long before they become addicted to them. Once the individual has developed a physical and psychological dependence these drugs take over and destroy their life.
* Most drug users do not have the financial resources to cover their drug habit. This means that they will often turn to crime in order to be able to afford these substances.
* Drug abuse has a devastating impact on the individual’s mental and physical health. Unless these people are able to stop the substance abuse it will kill them.
* Some individuals will become violent when they are intoxicated from these substances. They may also engage in other inappropriate ways.
* The drug user will be unable to live up to their potential while they are addicted to these substances. It can mean that their life is wasted.
* It is common for drug users to overdose on these substances. The fact that these substances are provided illegally means that their strength cannot be controlled – the individual ends up playing a dangerous game of Russian roulette.
* A significant number of drug users will end up in prison. They may develop a revolving door pattern where they are in and out of prison on a regular basis.
* Young people who become addicted to these substances will be limiting their future possibilities in life. It is not possible to perform well in school or college while abusing drugs.
* Drug users will find it hard to maintain steady employment and most become unemployable.
Drug addiction is a heavy burden for Malaysia because:
* It ties up a chunk of law enforcement resources. The battle against drug addiction has been an expensive project.
* It is a drain on available health care resources.
* Intravenous drug use is the primary cause of HIV transmission in Malaysia.
* Drug users harm the economy due to lost productivity. Those who are able to hold down a job will be less productive as a result of their addiction, and they may need to take frequent sick days.
* Money that could be spent on improving life for a family will be wasted because one of them is a drug addict. The family of a substance abuser may be living on the poverty line while this individual wastes a small fortune feeding their habit.
* Drug abuse ravages communities. It can get so bad that people are afraid to leave their homes after dark.
* The demand for these illegal substances feeds the criminal underworld. The money made from selling drugs is often used to finance further crime and to fund terrorism.
* Drug abuse is closely associated with domestic abuse.
Up until the late 1990s the main means for tackling drug addiction was enforced rehabilitation in detention centers. This approach has not been successful and now other means of dealing with the problem are being considered. Some of the options open to those who wish to escape addiction include:
* Rumah Ikhtiar aims to reintegrate the addict back into society. During their stay the individual is taught living skills and they also receive other types of training so that they can have a second chance in life.
* Narcotics Anonymous offers a 12 Step solution to help the individual overcome their drug addiction. The aim is to not only to help the individual overcome their addiction but also to give them a program so they can find true happiness in life.
* Some Malaysians are going abroad in order to find the best possible help for their addiction problems. DARA Rehab is based in Thailand and is the first and largest English-speaking substance abuse treatment facility in Asia.