Another decade of brutality and futility in Asia’s war on drugs

MEDIA RELEASE: New report highlights ever-growing Asian drug markets despite draconian attempts to become ‘drug-free’

For further information, Please contact:
Gloria Lai

Regional Director: Asia
International Drug Policy Consortium

+66 82 696 0334

Post published on Friday, 22 February 2019

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Related: Taking stock: A decade of drug policy – A civil society shadow report

[The Global Report by IDPC available in English, French, Spanish and Russian Languages]


Another decade of brutality and futility in Asia’s war on drugs

New report highlights ever-growing Asian drug markets despite draconian attempts to become ‘drug-free’

Wednesday, 20 February 2019 (New Delhi, India) – A report released today by the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) has exposed the war on drugs waged by countries across Asia as a devastating failure. ‘Tough on drugs’ posturing, with calls for violence and killing, has been used to bolster populist political agendas and election campaigns. However, the ensuing draconian policies have failed to make a dent in the region’s appetite for drugs. Instead, drug seizures have reached record-highs in Asia. The 287 million methamphetamine tablets seized in 2015 represent a nine-fold increase from the 31.1 million tablets seized in 2008. While in parallel, the number of deaths have soared, prisons are overcrowded and rates of HIV and hepatitis C continue to rise. It is evident that governments in the region need to seriously re-think their drug strategies.

The report, 10 years of drug policy in Asia: How far have we come? – A civil society shadow report, is a response by IDPC and its network of 182 NGOs to address the absence of any evaluation by Asian governments or the United Nations on the global 10-year plan on drugs agreed in 2009. Next month, governments will meet at the UN in Vienna to chart the way forward on international drug policy but without a genuine and honest assessment of the past 10 years.

“It is time for Asian governments to acknowledge the unjustified human cost and futility of the war on drugs,” said Ann Fordham, the Executive Director of IDPC.

“Our report starkly highlights the devastating impact of the past decade of punitive drug policies in Asia. Given the weight of the evidence, it would be shamefully irresponsible to take a ‘business as usual’ approach next month at the UN meeting on drugs. We call on Asian states to re-think their approaches to drugs, the lives of many depend on it.”

Using wide-ranging data from UN, government, academic and civil society sources, the report illustrates the carnage that the war on drugs has wreaked across Asia over the past decade:

  • At least 3,940 people executed for a drug offence over the last decade, with Asia representing half of the 33 jurisdictions that retain the death penalty for drug offences in violation of international standards.
  • Over 27,000 people killed in drug crackdowns in the Philippines since May 2016. In Bangladesh, up to 466 people have been killed since the Prime Minister launched a nationwide anti-drugs campaign in May 2018.
  • The estimated number of people who use amphetamine-type stimulants, such as methamphetamine, in Asia more than doubled between 2011 and 2016, from 8.74 million to 17.45 million (amongst those aged 15-64)
  • Despite an overall decline in HIV rates in Asia, the rate of HIV amongst people who inject drugs increased from 8.7% (2011) to 9.6% (2016) in East and Southeast Asia, and increased from 8.4% (2011) to 10.3% (2016) in South Asia.
  • The impact of the global pain epidemic, resulting from restrictions in access to controlled medicines, is heightened in Asia where the average morphine equivalence is 1.7 mg per capita compared with the global average of 61.5 mg per capita, leaving most people living in the region without proper access to pain relief.

“It is time for governments in the region to acknowledge the limitations of, and harms caused, by zero- tolerance drug policies, and the futility of clinging onto visions of a drug-free region,” writes José Ramos-Horta, Former President of Timor-Leste and a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, in the report’s Foreword. “A change in course is desperately needed for drug policies in Asia, and it is our hope that the region’s policymakers will learn the lessons of the past and show leadership in reforming damaging laws and policies at this critical juncture.”


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