PATHUM THANI, Thailand – Drug addicts in Thailand have been given a new lease of life thanks to a new government scheme which hopes to convert addicts into patients by sending them to a drug treatment center, rather than prison.
Patients at the Princess Mother National Institute on Drug Abuse Treatment, or Thanyarak, do not meet with visitors very often.
Under a minimum four months of drug treatment, they are advised to remain strictly under medical care, as any distraction, no matter how small, could mean a collapse of the treatment and a relapse into addiction.
At the center, patients are occupied with integrated harm-reduction sessions that include counseling, exercise and job training, apart from the medical treatment.
Opioid-based Methadone is provided for the patients during therapy, while amphetamines are used to counter the effects and symptoms of methamphetamine.
The atmosphere at the center is full of hope for around a thousand patients who have enrolled in a program to end drug abuse, according to an epa photographer who visited the center.
New patients are admitted every day, as the center welcomes both those who consent to join the treatment and others who are compelled to as part of their probation sentences.
The program provides an online forum which allows some users to seek treatment or for relatives or friends of addicts to ask for advice and voice concerns anonymously.
One of the forum’s users says her boyfriend’s hallucinations, as a result of methamphetamine overdose, has at time made her fear for her life.
Another post was from a woman who suspects that her brother may be on drugs after she noticed he had recently lost weight.
Turning an addict into patient is part of the latest government scheme, spearheaded by the Justice Ministry, launched in January 2017, to tackle the issue of drug abuse in Thai society.
As of November 2016, 71% of inmates across Thailand, or over 200,000 prisoners, were serving their time on drug-related charges.
There were 177,731 people receiving treatment in government-run rehabilitation centers across the country in the past year, with the highest number of patients aged between 15-24, according to the National Command Centre for Combating Drugs.
The Public Health Ministry estimates that about 2.7 million people became drug users in 2016.
In 2003, then-Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra declared a war on drugs, a government campaign which quickly turned violent and saw some 2,275 extrajudicial killings, which the government blamed largely on gangs involved in the drug trade, during the initial three-month phase, according to Human Rights Watch.