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Policy review group identifies ‘withdrawal symptoms’ of opium reduction in Southeast Asia

Drug control officials in Southeast Asia may regard the decline of opium production in the region as success but a report from the Transnational Institute claim otherwise. According to this Amsterdam-based policy research institute, Southeast Asia is actually suffering a multitude of “withdrawal symptoms” which leave little room for optimism towards the said decline.

One of the main reasons behind the decline of opium production in Southeast Asia is the implementation of stringent government policies against the drug’s production and the criminalization of its use. The Transnational Institute report did not deny the fact that said policies were effective in reducing opium production in Laos and Burma but it also pointed out that the reduction pushed more families in the two countries deeper into poverty. The report also questioned the sustainability of these stringent policies and opium bans.

In addition, Transnational International noted that the decline of opium in the market did not stop drug addiction in general but only led to a rise in the abuse of other more harmful drugs such as Amphetamine Type Stimulants. The report also noted an increase in health risks among drug users, including risks for HIV/AIDS.

As Tom Kramer , the organization’s Southeast Asia expert explained, “The Southeast Asian drug market is going through a process of profound transformation. The enforcement of opium bans in the Golden Triangle has driven hundreds of thousands of families deeper into poverty.”

Any success of the opium bans in the region also appear to be short-lived as the Transnational Institute report revealed that there is strong evidence that opium production is again gaining strength in Laos and Burma and is now spreading to areas in Burma that were previously unaffected by the market. This spread to such areas may be explained by the lack of alternative livelihood available to farmers in Laos and Burma.

Kramer also noted that these formerly simple opium growing and consuming areas have evolved into highly complex and dynamic market places of opiates and other drugs including ATS and pharmaceutical replacements. Significantly, Transnational Institute found that the production and consumption of ATS, specifically of methamphetamine, have increased more rapidly than production and consumption of opiates have decreased.

Furthermore, Transnational Institute noted that the supply of opium in the global market has increased and its production has shifted to Afghanistan.

In its conclusion, Transnational Institute for more humane drug control policies and development-oriented programs to be put into effect in place of stringent, all-encompassing bans. The organization also recommended providing alternative sources of living to farmers who are likely to be displaced as a result of anti-opium policies.

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