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Drug Addicts Down by 4% between 2020 & 2021: Malaysia Must Be Doing Something Right

As compared to 2020, which reported 128,325 drug cases, Malaysia saw a decrease of 4% of such cases being reported in 2021 (123,139 cases). 

Kedah took the lead in the country with 13,502 cases, followed by Johor (13,261 cases),  Selangor (12,182 cases); Terengganu (12,033 cases), and Kelantan (11,843 cases)[1].

Although 4% might seem trivial at first glance, it must be understood that our country has been waging war against the drug trade for the longest time.

For decades, Malaysia has had a long-standing battle with drugs – from its production and distribution to drug addicts and suppliers, not forgetting its consequences. Our strategic location put us on the map as a drug hub.

Malaysia is being used as A transit or hub country because of our proximity to the producing area. If you stop one syndicate, another will come up. – DCP Zulkifli Ali, senior police officer[2]

Ever since the 1980s, drug addiction has been Malaysia’s targeted enemy.

When Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad first took office in 1981, he regarded drugs as public enemy number one – and it is still the same today. Drugs are still our number one enemy. – DCP Zulkifli Ali, senior police officer[2]

However, the numbers show that there may be light at the end of this tunnel. 

The National Anti-Drugs Agency (NADA) shares statistics on drug addiction every year, and the numbers (via the various treatment and rehabilitation centres run by NADA), show a surge in 2019 but have been declining ever since[3].

As we celebrate this small leap of victory – while acknowledging there’s still a long way to go in ridding the drug issue, let’s take a look at what Malaysia has done to kick the issue to the curb.

Tackling The Drug Industry 

One of the first steps to purge the drug industry was the enforcement of the Dangerous Drug Act (DDA) in 1952 by the British government[4].

And until today, the Royal Malaysian Police carry out drug busts, seizing thousands if not millions worth of drugs throughout the country. 

Additionally, when Malaysia realised the drugs were largely seeping into its communities, the country imposed the death penalty. In 1983, at the peak of the drug industry, a mandatory death penalty was enforced for drug traffickers, with a “no-mercy” policy. Between 1983 to 1992, over 120 drug offenders were hanged, followed by an average of 15 executions each year between 1980 to 1996[4].

Source: The Iskandarian

All these rulings may have instilled fear, but it didn’t help to combat the drug industry.

If you just have the death penalty — the punish, punish, punish (mentality) for people who use drugs — it actually doesn’t solve the problem. It might look like the government has done something, but that is not (true). – Samantha Chong, lawyer[5]

In June 2022, the death penalty was tabled to be abolished

Quite frankly, when those who assert that the death sentence works, they are doing so without any empirical support. If (the death penalty) really works (as a deterrent), shouldn’t the number of traffickers be going down?

So, what is needed in our country is a different approach in terms of dealing with trafficking. – Abdul Rashid, former president of the National Human Rights Society of Malaysia[5]

The abolishment is also a chance at redemption for current drug abusers previously sentenced to the death penalty.

The Federal Court will look at the case one by one to determine whether the death penalty should be replaced, and this applies to those who were already sent to the gallows for being sentenced to natural life imprisonment. – Ramkarpal Singh, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform)[6] 

Offenders such as 45-year-old *Mohamad, who has spent the past 23 years in prison for a drug offence, is hoping for a second chance[6].

Give us a chance to be with our families. – *Mohamad[6]

We Must Destroy The Root Of The Problem 

Drugs have fueled two dangers – drug trafficking and drug addiction. Putting drug abusers behind bars does not stop the root of the problem, which is drug trafficking. 

Source: USCNews

Unfortunately, it’s all about demand and supply. You cut off one head, another one will come up. – Kitson Foong, criminal lawyer[7] 

Drug trafficking is a global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws. 

It is also a source of revenue for organised crime groups who are involved in larger criminal activity such as firearms, modern slavery and immigration crime. 

It is common sense that the impact of drug enforcement would be greater if it could reach the source of the problem, the criminal entrepreneur whose energy, intelligence, greed, and ruthlessness animate and sustain the drug trade. – Perspectives on Policing[8] 

With the drug industry being a global trade, ridding the issue once and for all can be tricky.   The upside is that Malaysia can foster engagement with other countries to halt drug trafficking and adopt efforts such as

  • Effective coordination among enforcement agencies
  • Sharing of intelligence – There is an urgent need to develop a system for sharing of information which would help the enforcement agencies connect the distributors to the source of supply. 
  • Focusing on source of supply. Exposing a drug traffic network requires years of planning, intelligence collection and sustained efforts to bust the network. Enforcement agencies should focus mainly on tracking the network deeply and prosecuting producers and suppliers.

Awareness And Education Are The Key

Despite the hurdles faced to overcome the drug issues, the Malaysian government and local organisations are working hard at every level to tackle the issue.

Drug education and awareness in schools is a step in the right direction.

For instance, in 2021, the Drug Prevention Association of Malaysia (Pemadam) Sarawak contributed a total of RM193,000 to 193 schools in Sarawak to carry out drug awareness programs[9].

As influence is strong among young children and youth, it’s important for them to know the potential harm of both legal and illegal drugs.

Research shows that the social pressure to belong, to be accepted, and to be part of a social group, especially in teenagers, prompts them to conform to their peer group, and start trying out drugs. That’s how it usually begins. – Dr Tam Cai Lian, Senior Lecturer in Counselling Psychology at the Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Monash University Malaysia[10].

Other programmes previously outlined by the government are the PINTAR and SHIELDS programmes, targeted at primary and secondary school students respectively[11].

There are also programmes for other tiers of society such as Family On Alert, SMART(for youth), Tomorrows Leaders and TEKAD(workplace)[11].

Rehab: A Safe Place To Start Anew 

Source: Freepik

For those who have fallen into drug addiction, there are rehabilitation centres for them to overcome their addiction in a healing environment.

In May of 2022, the National Anti-Drug Agency (AADK) launched the Mobile Recovery Treatment (MRT). The mobile rehab programme reaches out to addicts to provide treatment, with hopes of helping as many as possible[12].

This is different from the previous programmes. We have been treating drug addicts for the past 40 years, but there seems to be no reduction in the number of addicts.

This collaboration between AADK and the Malaysian Prison Department is a problem-solving approach to overcome the problem of drug relapse and ensure that they attend the AADK Community Addiction Treatment and Rehabilitation after their release. – Datuk Seri Hamzah, former Home Minister[12]

Even during the pandemic, NADA helped 47,863 clients receive treatment in 2021[13].

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Although rehab offers addicts a fresh start, falling back into drug addiction is easier than getting out. The hard work of the addict goes down the drain when he or she relapses(A relapse happens when a person stops maintaining their goal of reducing or avoiding the use of alcohol or other drugs and returns to their previous levels of use).

Relapses are triggered by different circumstances, such as tempting environments or situations.

33-year-old *Firdaus relapsed five years after undergoing drug rehabilitation at the Narcotics Addiction Rehabilitation Centre (Puspen) in Dengkil, Selangor[14].

The conversations with his old pals who lived in the same flat (the place for his previous drug activities) triggered him, and he was back at square one.

Source: The Star

No one put the drugs in his hands. His relapse was triggered by the people around him, the sounds and the flats acted as triggers.

It happens all the time – even the clinking of a spoon can trigger a relapse. The people who engaged in those activities are also potential triggers. –  Datuk Dr Muhamad Sade Mohamad Amin,  AADK deputy director-general (Operations)[14] 

Silver Lining In Combatting Drug Addiction in Malaysia 

Despite the arduous journey of recovery, former drug addicts have proven that leaving drugs behind is possible.

At just 19 years old, Yusri Sahrin became a drug addict – with a painful addiction to heroin, making it almost impossible to stop[15]

Source: FMT

With heroin, the addiction is really bad and you will feel pain in your body when you do not take it. This is what drives addicts to steal and cheat people, just to get their next fix. – Yusri[15]

Determined to get clean and start over, Yusli tried and failed countless times. 

I always prayed to find a way to get clean because I just could not stand my life and I wanted to change. – Yusri[15]

In 1996, he was introduced to a drug rehabilitation centre run by former addicts – Pengasih Malaysia. Going through the recovery process was not a breeze, but Yusri stuck through as he yearned for change.

When he completed the rehab programme, Yusri worked his way up to a better life – as a cleaner at an LRT station, then at a factory and later at a printing company. Today, the former addict owns his own printing company, where 10 former addicts from Pengasih are employed[15].

As a former addict, Yusri lives with compassion and believes that addicts can turn their lives around.

My message to people is, please give former addicts a second chance and never give up hope on them. – Yusri[15]

In a country that is striving for greatness, we should support the journey of addicts who recognise their flaws and those working towards recovery.

Listed below are organisations fighting the issue of drug addiction:

Drug Free Malaysia (DFM) raises awareness about the dangers of drug abuse among individuals, family, friends, community & country. DFM’s approach is to fill the youth’s free time with various activities, especially music and extreme sports to avoid the youth from unhealthy symptoms and other social problems.

Pengasih Malaysia was officially formed by a group of former drug addicts with the core values of a belief that drug addiction does recover and addiction is preventable. The organisation has assisted thousands of recovering addicts in their recovery process. It has ventured deeply into providing Treatment & Recovery from substance abuse with a working force.

Kenosis Home is a non-profit organisation (and faith-based) that aims to help individuals and families (impacted by drug addiction) experience freedom, hope and life. They offer rehabilitation with caring, supportive and disciplined environments to empower drug-dependent individuals to live purposeful and drug-free lives.

Explore Our Sources

  1. The Star. (2023). Kedah records highest number of drug abuse cases in the country. Link
  2. Rage. (2019). The Golden Triangle. Link
  3. DOSM. (2023). How has drug addiction in Malaysia changed over time?. Link
  4. Amnesty International. (2023). A Brief History of the Death Penalty in Malaysia. Link
  5. Bernama. (2022). Address damage from Malaysia’s harsh zero-tolerance drug policies: Advocates. Link
  6. Malaymail. (2023). Ramkarpal: Bill related to abolition of mandatory death penalty to be tabled at Parliament next month. Link
  7. Rage. (2019). The Sting. Link
  8. Mark H.M, & Mark A.R. (1989). The Police and Drugs. Link
  9. Dayak Daily. (2021). RM 193k for 193 schools to organise drug abuse awareness programmes. Link
  10. Monash University. Contributory Factors: Drug Abuse in Malaysia. Link
  11. MAMPU. (2021). Drug Prevention. Link
  12. The Sun. (2022). MRT AADK provides flexible drug addiction treatment, rehabilitation services. Link
  13. Mohamed, B. (2021). NADA rehab programmes continue despite pandemic. Link
  14. Bavani, M. (2022). High relapse rate among addicts. Link
  15. Wiki Impact. (2021). Yusri Sahrin: An Ex-Addict Who Was Homeless Now Owns A Business And Employs Other Ex-Addicts. Link

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