Thai Drug Users

In December ’05, the Thai Drug Users’ Network (TDUN) issued this Press Release:

TDUN Deplores State-Sponsored Human Rights Violations, Demands an End to the Waron Drugs and Punitive Treatment of Drug Users, and Calls for a Public Health and Human Rights Approach to HIV/AIDS and Drug Problems

The Thai Drug Users’ Network (TDUN) held a 3rd-year anniversary celebration to which over 100 family members and friends were invited.

am really excited to be here. I lost many friends and I miss them. I wanted to honor their memories by being here” said one TDUN member.

The friendly and energetic environment was buoyed by a common sense of purpose and shared dream. The Network began by describing the principles underlying its work. Following was a memorial ceremony in honor of drug users who died of civil rights violations or government drug policies.

“I think everyone uses or is addicted to something, similar to me. Some people drink alcohol or are alcoholics, and actually alcohol can have a negative effect on our health, even worse than many drugs, so why are some drugs legal and other drugs not? I don’t know who decided that the things that we use should be illegal, or why. Often it’s the illegality that causes bad things to happen to us,” said Mr. Atikhom, TDN’s Coordinator.

Thailand receives international accolades for its “Best Practice” in fighting HIV/AIDS, despite unaddressed surging epidemics among highly vulnerable groups like injecting drug users (IDU), who have suffered a 50% prevalence rate since the late 1980s. Rates of new infections among IDU are not decreasing, and risk of HIV infection has increased as a direct result of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s anti-drug campaign, which also dramatically ratchets down the country’s human rights record.

“I saw how dirty politicians got when they started to use the drug problem for their own political benefit and popularity, instead of considering the effect on people’s lives, and I for one don’t believe that drugs will ever be eradicated from this world,” (Ms. Pisamai, a TDN member).

A new, Thai-language version of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) document, “THAILAND – Not Enough Graves: the War on Drugs, HIV/AIDS and Violations of Human Rights” was distributed to event goers. The report documents a range of human rights abuses inflicted against people allegedly involved with drugs. TDN highlighted these findings while denouncing government apathy in the face of facts. “The Thai government opposes low-cost measures, such as needle exchange, that would prevent HIV among heroin injectors.It subjects drug users to mass arrest and incarceration, placing them, their sex partners, and their communities at high risk of HIV infection. Thailand’s “war on drugs,” marked by state-sponsored violence and repression, has instead proven to be a war on effective efforts to eradicate HIV/AIDS.” International agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) have affirmed the effectiveness of “harm reduction” and recommend it as a critical response to HIV/AIDS among injecting drug users.

It is a standard approach in many countries. Global evidence confirms that such approaches do not result in increased drug use but rather lead to increased voluntary uptake of drug dependence treatment and other services. However, despite proclamations by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra at the International AIDS Conference (IAC) in Bangkok (July 2004) that the government would work with the Thai Drug Users’ Network to ensure harm reduction measures would be implemented as a matter of policy, today, one year and a half after the IAC, PM Thaksin continues to announce new rounds of the government’s war on drugs and not a single harm reduction policy has been officially introduced. “Actually, we’re still treated as criminals, and not as “patients” as the new law states. The approaches are still punishment-oriented and not therapeutic. Methadone, a critical drug substitution therapy, is not covered under the national health care scheme,” said Mr. Samaan, a TDN board member.

“One proven way to improve the response to HIV/AIDS among our community is strengthening the capacity of drug users to be actively involved in the development of programs and policies that affect us. Respecting our value, dignity and humanity as well as our ability to contribute to solving the drug and HIV problem is important in order for us to succeed,” added Mr. Seree Jintakanon, TDN’s Chairman, at an afternoon seminar on “Law, Policy and Human Rights of Drug Users.” Guest speakers included a UNAIDS representative, human rights lawyers and academics. The event continued into the evening with food, music, laughter and celebration – an atmosphere, many noted, rarely enjoyed in public by open drug users in Thailand.

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