At an opening ceremony for a new drug rehabilitation facility in capital Bangkok, General Paiboon Khumchaya said 1.3 million people in Thailand – 2 percent of its population – were “drug addicts,” according to the Bangkok Post.
Referring to figures from the Office of the Narcotic Control Board and the Narcotics Suppression Bureau, he said Thailand ranked the highest for drug addiction among the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Explaining that 250,000 “addicts” have been detained after facing sentencing, Khumchaya added, “more than 200,000 imprisoned drug addicts are actually not key dealers.”
Underlining that most countries had realized that the imprisonment of drug offenders was not a solution as it could not cure addiction in most cases, he stressed the need to separate convicted and non-convicted drug users in rehabilitation facilities.
The justice minister, who expressed his concern that many users resort to drug abuse once again after returning from rehabilitation centers to their old environment, also called for a regrouping of diverse anti-drug laws under a single piece of legislation.
Such frank assessments by Thai officials of the country’s drug situation are relatively rare.
Earlier this year, Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin said more than 359,000 addicts had been rehabilitated in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. He set the target for this fiscal year at 220,000 rehabilitations.
In a report released earlier this month, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime indicated that opium production in the Golden Triangle – an area straddling the borders of Myanmar, Lao and Thailand – had tripled in the period between 2006 and 2014.
In September, the Thai junta and police launched a major anti-drug campaign targeting drug consumers and small dealers in Bangkok in a bid to fight trafficking by lowering demand, amid slow progress of cross-border cooperation to eliminate productions sites.
At least 22 small dealers and 83 drugs users -- who were sent to rehabilitation centers located in military camps -- were arrested the day of the operation’s launch.
Since the 2000s, methamphetamines have replaced heroin as the most common drugs consumed in Thailand. Production sites are mostly across the border in Myanmar.
The drug, locally called “Ya Ba” or “the drug which makes you crazy,” was initially taken by workers and truck drivers to keep them working long hours, but its use expanded considerably in the 2000s – until it could even be found at primary school playgrounds.
Thai police are regularly seizing large quantities of methamphetamines – sometimes up to several hundreds of thousands of pills - but the problem remains, partly due to the persistent demand.