THE faulty and singularly punitive approach to narcotics control has left some critical issues unaddressed and proved the current efforts ineffective in containing drug abuse problem. The issue of tackling the supply chain and ensuring the rehabilitation of ‘drug addicts’ or people dependent on narcotic substances is left outside the policy purview. The extremely punitive approach is explicit in the high number of extrajudicial killing of the people suspected of being involved in drug peddling and the people incarcerated in drug crimes cases. In May 2018, the government began a drive against drug peddling and abuse, which left at least 479 suspects extrajudicially killed. As of February 9, 26,678 prisoners, or 30 per cent of total prisoners in the country, are reported to have been arrested in drug-related cases. There are only four publicly-funded drug addiction treatment centres for about 60 lakh ‘addicts’. The government now plans to ensure a modern interrogation unit, criminal data management system and digital forensic lab, but a drug control programme without rehabilitation will not bring about expected results.
The drive and its myopic focus on distribution have left the main actors, influential quarters involved in the production and smuggling of drugs, untouched. The government as well as international agencies have suggested that drugs such as Yaba, heroin, marijuana and cocaine are, with the help of local people, smuggled into Bangladesh from Myanmar, India, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. Local and international drug traders involved in the supply chain active need to be brought to justice. Experts have urged the government to develop a comprehensive programme with an equal emphasis on the treatment of people dependent on drugs. Public hospitals provide treatments for free, but the treatment is short-term and does not have any mechanism to follow up on patients. Private rehabilitation centres are expensive and treatment protocols are reportedly regularly violated. On February 15, the family of a patient staying in a rehabilitation centre at Savar levelled allegation against the centre administration that the patient was tortured to death. The treatment and rehabilitation centres, therefore, warrant regulatory attention.
The government must, therefore, give equal attention to the supply side of drugs and look into the allegation of involvement of politically influential quarters and law enforcement agencies in drug smuggling and peddling and take strict action against them. It should also adopt a policy that approaches the problem of drug abuse from legal, social and public health perspectives. In so doing, it must allocate adequate financial and human resources for effective treatment and rehabilitation centres and create the scope for social and economic reintegration of everyday drug ‘pedlars’ and ‘addicts’. The government must realise that the criminalisation of drug abuse and extrajudicial killing of pedlars are unlikely to bring about the expected results.
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