THE National Anti-Drug Agency has recorded the number of drug addicts nationwide from 2014 until September 2018 at 133,684, which is 0.40 per cent of the country’s population. The youngest drug abuser on record is a 7-year old child.
Drug addiction and drug abuse are serious concerns which affect society and public policy in multiple arenas, including loss of productive manpower and a taxation on the criminal justice administration and system.
Pahang recorded the highest number with 16,150 (0.96 per cent of its population), followed by Kelantan with 16,918, Terengganu (10,576 addicts or 0.87 per cent) and Perlis (2,123 addicts or 0.82 per cent).
Negri Sembilan ranked fifth with 7,503 drug addicts, Penang (9,684), Melaka (4,140), Kedah (9,691), Johor (13,003), Perak (8,596), Kuala Lumpur (8,270), Sabah (9,513), Selangor (13,123) and Sarawak (4,414).
Of this, 80,598 or 73.4 per cent were youths aged between 19 and 39, 26,197 were adults aged 40 and above, and 3,043 were teenagers aged between 13 and 18.
Malays form the highest number of addicts — 88,522 — followed by the Chinese (7,883), Indians (7,689), Sabah Bumiputeras (4,274) and Sarawak Bumiputeras (713). Male addicts stood at 105,632 compared with females at 4,206.
It is estimated that currently, Malaysia suffers 70 new drug addicts daily. The ugliest part of this issue is that out of the total number of reported cases, 3,046 were new addicts and 682 were repeat offenders.
There are two explanations for the high incidence of repeat offenders. First, impulsive individuals with weak social attachment to others tend to get into trouble more frequently than less impulsive and more attached individuals.
Some have argued that jailing drug users is not the answer to the problem as, in most cases, the offenders continue with the habit after being released from prison. In fact, while serving their sentence in prison, non-addicts or new addicts mix with old drug addicts and pushers and as a result the habit gets worse. Many small-time drug users “upgrade” themselves to become pushers or dealers and in fact, some even join the syndicates in the underground economy.
Deputy Home Minister Datuk Mohd Azis Jamman has said that up to 3.2 million Malaysians are living in areas considered “high risk” due to rampant drug trafficking and abuse.
Various factors, including the prevalence of drug pushers and changing lifestyles, have given rise to the high-risk areas. The trend in drug abuse has changed of late, with drug users moving from plant-based drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, to more harmful synthetic drugs such as syabu and ecstasy.
More worryingly, a total of 425 Malaysian drug mules have been detained by the authorities in 19 countries from 2013 to October last year.
Drug trafficking is lucrative for Malaysian cartels, generating billions of ringgit in annual income. A few years ago, Universiti Utara Malaysia’s research findings on the economic cost of drug abuse found the government had spent RM8.65 billion in direct and indirect costs to tackle drug issues.
According to the police, drug syndicates earned a whopping RM1.2 billion in profits in the space of a year. Lately, months of operations around the country have made a huge dent in the war against illicit drugs. The seizure of RM72.5 million worth of party pills and ganja in Penang was the largest in the country. Prior to that, RM54 million worth of syabu was seized on Aug 31 last year. Police have seized drugs in almost every state and the amount is getting bigger.
In 2017, the National Anti-Drug Agency identified 2,000 schools nationwide as being at high risk of student involvement in drugs. The agency said students at 400 of the schools, mostly secondary, were involved in drugs. The students were mostly males aged between 14 and 16, and the schools were mostly found in farming and fishing settlements.
There should be more scientific studies to find out the main contributing factors to this social malaise, such as parenting, socio-economic problems, demand and supply, weak enforcement, and integrity and border issues. The lack of effective preventive measures, and the use of globalisation tools and technologies which enable syndicates to smuggle drugs into our country, continue to be contributory factors to this evil.
Corruption is one of the main reasons why drug trafficking is still rampant. Ironically, the police had several times warned that they were not going to compromise in their fight against drugs. The new IGP will definitely need to overcome this problem in the force.
To address this problem effectively, our government needs well-trained law enforcement officers with high integrity and good intelligence procurement capabilities.
All relevant law enforcement and related agencies should work together and exchange information on drug trafficking, together with international cooperation on top of strong national policies on prohibition and enforcement.
In terms of rehabilitation, addicts need family support and a greater helping hand from society. The most important place for this drug war to be fought is in the home, using kindness, compassion and fairness.
Many parents think schools should handle the issue of drug abuse prevention. But even if schools were to introduce drug abuse education, this must be supported by a very strong anti-drug message in the home.
Employers need to avoid the misconception that employing people who have been through rehab is overly risky and dangerous. The Work and Pensions Secretary in the UK found that ex-drug users can make the best workers. It has outlined new schemes dedicated to getting welfare claimants with drug and drink problems into employment.
We need to find some light at the end of the tunnel to rid ourselves of this great evil in our society or we will all suffer the terrible, personal and national consequences. We need to wake up and fight. It is a fight we are all in, for the sake of our country and future generations.
The writer holds a professorial chair for Crime and Criminology at Institute of Crime & Criminology, HELP University