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Asian nations urged to replicate Macau’s drug rehab model

Rising drug abuse in Southeast Asia is matter of concern, says official from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
The Macau Drug Addict Rehabilitation Association (ARTM) has earned praise from the UN for its exemplary drug rehabilitation program

The Macau Drug Addict Rehabilitation Association (ARTM) has earned praise from the UN for its exemplary drug rehabilitation program. (Photo: ARTM)

Published: July 26, 2023 03:03 AM GMT
Updated: July 26, 2023 04:01 AM GMT

A top UN anti-narcotics official has applauded Macau’s rehabilitation and social reintegration program for addicts and urged Asian nations to follow suit to battle a rising drug menace in the region.

The model followed by Macau “can very likely be considered by these [Asian] countries,” Jeremy Douglas, Regional Representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said during a recent visit, Portuguese daily Ponto Final reported on July 25.

Douglas made the remarks during his visit to the Macau Drug Rehabilitation Association (ARTM) in Ka-Hó on July 21 and praised the efforts of the association as an effective deterrent against drug addiction and related crimes.

“In general, Macau has done a good job in controlling drug use and, in part, it is because of the work carried out by ARTM, which contributed to this regard,” Douglas said.

ARTM runs detoxification and rehabilitation projects targeting individuals seeking a treatment goal of abstinence, opioid reduction or opioid stabilization, and other addictions through its treatment centers.

It follows the Therapeutic Community (TC) Model based on four pillars: Treatment, Prevention, Harm Reduction, and Policy Advocacy.

"Other countries could more effectively adapt it to their benefit"

The model “allows the enhancement of a client’s acknowledgment of their personal problems and their self-development,” according to the ARTM website. It also helps to rebuild family bonds and helps clients reintegrate and become healthy members of society.

Douglas pointed out that Macau is culturally like many areas of Southeast Asia, “with a large Chinese diaspora, but also with many other cultural elements,” and the model can be replicated in other regions.

He pointed that the model was “an indigenous creation” in Macau, and other countries could more effectively adapt it to their benefit.

“I hope I can take this back to some of the governments I am working with directly,” the official said.

The UN official said he is concerned about rising drug abuse in Southeast Asia and lamented that the situation in the Philippines, Thailand and Laos is "worrying."

"The problem is huge, especially with methamphetamine use, so we need examples like this to show governments that if they invest in different things, they can achieve more effects on society,” Douglas said.

"They may still suffer legal consequences"

He said that Thailand’s decriminalization of cannabis consumption in 2022 made its neighbors Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam “worried.”

“They are really worried, and they are warning tourists who are going to travel, that if they return from Thailand and test positive, for having consumed drugs while they were there, they may still suffer legal consequences,” Douglas said.

He also cited the use of “happy water,” a popular drug in high circulation among the youth frequenting Thai clubs as “worrying.”

Earlier, the Chinese embassy in Thailand issued a warning alerting Chinese tourists that consuming drugs “out of doors” is the same as consuming in Chinese territory, thereby subjecting them to the same legal consequences as those in China.

The Chinese authorities have warned that those caught trying to smuggle cannabis to Macau may face jail sentences.

According to a survey on the trend of drug abuse and the need for drug use treatment services and development plans in Macau, 141 (4.83 percent) of the 2,917 respondents have used drugs at least once in their lifetime.

The figures were much lower than that of countries in Europe, North America, and nearby Asian regions. More than half of the drug users abused prescription drugs.

Apart from prescription drugs, the common form of drugs used by Macau residents include marijuana, ecstasy, new psychoactive substances such as ketamine, inhalants, and methamphetamine.

About 86.4 percent or 119 out of 141 survey respondents said they did not seek help from professionals or receive any drug abuse treatment or service.

Douglas alleged that most countries in Southeast Asia “do not invest anything” in these forms of drug abuse control.

“What is lacking is prevention and treatment. There is no investment in it,” he lamented.

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