Speech by Minister of Justice, Mao-lin Shih
September 12, 2006
at Contract-signing Ceremony between Department of Health and Ministry of Justice on Cross-ministerial Collaboration in Drug Treatment and Community Rehabilitation
Today’s contract signing appears to be a small ceremony, but it signifies a significant departure from the past. Since I became involved in drug control more than a decade ago, this is the first time the two Ministries have carried out collaboration on such a large scale. Like Minister Hou, I am heartened by the occasion, and this collaboration will surely be a historical milestone in our continuing fight against drug abuse.
TRADITIONAL DRUG CONTROL POLICY: SUPPLY REDUCTION AS PRIORITY
We all realize that 13 years have passed since the government launched its drug control campaign in 1993. Haven’t we been diligent enough in our efforts? Many outside the government actually think that the harder we push forward with our efforts, the more severe the situation of drug abuse becomes. Indeed, the number of drug users has not declined over the years. So what is the problem? Our initial drug control strategy developed in 1993 followed a simple two-step rationale: to cut off supply and to reduce demand. This strategy clearly distinguishes between supply and demand, and it prioritizes the capturing and prosecution of suppliers over demand reduction. As a result, we have seen prosecutors, police officers, coastal guards, military policemen and government investigators devoting all their time and energy to the cause. While this has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of narcotics seizures and drug-related prosecutions, we realize that this has not led to improvement in public order or a shrinking population of drug users. It has become apparent that this strategy is flawed.
CURRENT DRUG CONTROL POLICY: DEMAND REDUCTION AS NEW FOCUS
After much personal discussion with Minister Hou and through constant exchange between my colleagues and our partners in the Department of Health, we realize that we might need to reverse our priorities and proceed from reducing demand to lessening supply. This is because if there is no reduction in demand, focusing on supply and prosecution will only lead to higher drug prices. As a result, addicts will need to find ways to pay for the more pricy drugs. Experience shows that this could drive them into stealing public and private property, such manhole covers, betel nuts from the field, agricultural machinery, water pumps – you name it. You could image that addicts are willing to do anything for drugs, including stealing, robbery and fraud. Therefore, if we could reduce demand by preventing new cases of addiction and by helping existing users quit, that would be the most ideal scenario. Strict law enforcement coupled with no increase in drug prices and addict numbers is our ultimate goal.
COLLABORATION BETWEEN JUSTICE AND HEALTH DEPARTMENTS: DRUG REHABILITATION AND HIV PREVENTION
I am indebted to Minister Hou for this new thinking on a demand-side policy, and we are collaborating in multiple ways at the moment to implement it. For drug users in the community, we are offering replacement therapy and harm reduction services. For drug users in prison, we put them under rehabilitation and observation first. If this initial treatment fails, addicts will have to receive compulsory detoxification treatment for a second or even a third time. And all these require the assistance of medical professionals.
As Minister Hou just mentioned, I have come to realize that drug users are also patients with chronic disease. They have the dual characteristics of a patient and a criminal. This means that they also need to be treated as patients. However, this point has been overlooked by so many people working in this field for so long. I am therefore grateful to Minister Hou and his team for spotting the problem and for being willing to collaborate with us. They have not only contributed money and services but also visited many prisons to see firsthand what the situation is like. I have pointed out to Minister Hou that the prison is the weakest link in our chain of health education. There are currently more than 62,000 prison inmates in Taiwan, and many of them have poor personal hygiene and living habits, making them more prone to drug addiction and ill health. As a result, professional medical teams are much needed and welcomed in the prisons to treat drug abuse and other health problems. It is also critical for drug users to have a place to continue their rehabilitation after release from jail. There are thus two major concerns to be addressed.
Most drug users come from an unhealthy social environment. After they are released from prison, they often have nowhere else to go and return to their previous lives of living dangerously on the fringe of society. This helps us understand why the relapse rate is as high as 80% among rehabilitated drug users after their release from jail. Today, we are tackling this problem through a new and effective approach which invites willingness on the part of drug users to undergo rehabilitation and kick the habit. This is an extremely positive development from a law-and-order perspective. So I would like to express my gratitude again to the Department of Health and its subsidiaries, especially to hospitals that have provided long-term support to the prison system, such as the Tsaotun Psychiatric Center.
WORKING TOGETHER TO BUILD A DRUG- AND AIDS-FREE COMMUNITY
Through today’s reaffirmation of our collaboration, I have faith that we will be able to bring drug abuse under effective control. We saw in the young dancers who opened this ceremony for us a sense of hope and confidence and a commitment to create a better tomorrow for rehabilitated drug users. We hope that from this moment onward, we will move steadily towards achieving our goal.
Last but not least, we look forward to understanding and assistance from all sectors of society to help us confront this new reality. Please give our medical teams and our justice systems, especially the prison system, more support so that our work can become rooted and serve as a fertile ground for further endeavors to achieve our target. I believe this will benefit society as a whole and will bring the greatest pleasure to all my colleagues present here today.
(See attachment for photos of the contract-signing ceremony)