Harm Reduction for drug addicts: Government should work with experts and volunteering groups closely to ensure success

Media Statement
Ronnie Liu Tian Khiew

(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): The Health Minister Datuk Chua Soi Lek announced yesterday that the Government has finally decided to adopt the harm reduction method (giving out methadone as alternative drugs, exchange of needles, giving out free condoms) advocated by DAP and other experts and volunteering groups in the country.

Under the pilot project, needles and condoms will be distributed to about 1,200 drug addicts through 20 government and private clinics.

We strongly believe that harm reduction is the way to move forward in combating the ever-increasing HIV/AIDS cases among the drug addicts and their partners.

We urge all quarters to support the pragmatic move adopted by the Government. The harm reduction method has been tested and proven successful in both developed and developing countries.

Methadone, an alternative to heroin, have been proven successful to reduce withdrawal symptoms and enable drug addicts to continue with their lives, providing d drug addicts a second chance instead of rotting and wasting their lives without a hope.

The needles exchange and free condoms distribution programs will certainly reduce the chances of contracting HIV/AIDS among the drug addicts and their sex partners.

Malaysians in general have to stop treating drug addicts as criminals. They are patients who need proper treatments and support from their families and friends.

Religious leaders who were uneasy with the programs need to understand that such programs were not meant for encouraging illicit sex, but rather a sound and practical method to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS, a threat so serious that our society as a whole could ill-afford. We cannot run away from the fact that 80% of the HIV positive drug addicts are sexually active.

Malaysians should be informed that Malaysia has an alarmingly high population of drug addicted infected with HIV/AIDS. We have more than 170,000 compared to only 17,000 in Australia, where our total population was almost equal.

The Government must realize that the harm reduction method can only work with the cooperation of all quarters.

The Government must enlist help and assistance from experts and experienced volunteering groups in the country to ensure the success of harm reduction methods. Many of them have in the past embarking on the methods in the fields without any assistance from the Government.

Chua should form a special task force involving these experts and groups who were ready to contribute to ensure the success of the pilot project. The project may be hijacked by unscrupulous politicians and government servants for publicity or fast bucks if left unchecked.

-Ronnie Liu Tian Khiew-



* Ronnie Liu Tian Khiew, DAP International Secretary and NGO bureau chief