The effects of illegal drugs, including addiction, mental aberration and psychosis are real and cannot be ignored even though the some drugs such as cannabis, have medicinal pain killing and neuro protection qualities. Thailand still faces a challenge and threat from illegal drugs and the drug lords of the Golden Triangle.

A Thai mother cries as her home burns down in front of her eyes. Her 27 year old son had been driven to insanity by his addiction to drugs and alcohol. Thailand’s problem with drugs did not go away in the last few weeks when it legalised marijuana and other prohibited drugs. Drugs and the devastation they wreak, is still a thorny issue that must be tackled by the country’s policy makers and any future new government.

A Thai woman cries last month in Khon Kaen when her home was burnt to the ground by a fire set by her psychotic son, who suffered from drug and alcohol addiction. Even though cannabis, kratom and other substances have been legalised for medical use in Thailand, it will not eliminate the threat still posed to society by drug abuse and addiction. There has been talk of reform and some have pointed to the new law as a positive sign in that direction. Some experts are suggesting drug courts in Thailand, where addicts are given treatment instead of jail terms. This would help solve the problem of Thailand’s overcrowded prisons, where up to 80% of the inmates are there for drugs. However, there is strong expert opinion that cannabis and kratom are addictive, act as a gateway to other drugs and are prone to cause psychosis. With a government household survey in 2016 suggesting that up to 6% of Thai working age adults had taken illegal drugs, any let up in the fight against the scourge of drug addiction must be examined very carefully. It is a difficult, intractable problem and should not be overshadowed by the undoubted, positive financial benefits of legal cannabis and kratom for medicinal use or palliative care. (Photo: Sanook)

The recently lauded move to legalise marijuana or cannabis in Thailand has been nearly universally lauded. It is a popular move which opens a vista for a range of new and badly needed incomes, from Thai farmers to the medical industry. It is thought it may also allow new initiatives, under Thailand’s Ministry of Health, to deal more humanely with drug addiction. One proposal, floated by reformers, is the creation of drug courts with medical treatment as an option. This would help deal with the overflowing Thai prison system, where 80% of inmate are serving jail terms for drug related crimes. However, the new move will not alleviate the damage and destruction that these illegal drugs and others can cause to society, particularly their capacity to induce mental illness or psychosis.

Thailand basking in the success and prospects for cannabis legalisation but a real threat from illegal drugs still exists

Thailand is currently basking in the legislative success of legalising marijuana and other substances for medical use. It has been tipped by many as a move towards a more relaxed culture towards drugs in the country for the future. Many point out that the war on drugs is primarily responsible for massive overcrowding in Thailand’s harsh prisons and that it is time for a new approach. However, in the last 12 months, interceptions of methamphetamine substances including yaba pills as well as heroin and other drugs, show that the threat of drugs to the country is still at an alarmingly high level.

Up to 3 million illegal drug users in Thailand

There are estimated to be upwards of 3 million Thai adults who use drugs on a regular basis. In a country with below 1% unemployment, many of these people are working and holding down jobs. However, the misery and damage that the illegal drugs cause, the addictions that they create and side effects, including mental aberrations are not often fully appreciated. They are, in fact, reported to be behind 80% of criminal arrests in Thailand and this is a figure that has spiralling upwards, in the last decade alone.

Thai woman finds her house burnt down

In Khon Kaen, in early December 2018, one Thai mother found herself at the coal face of Thailand’s struggle with drugs. 49 year old Udom, her house chores done, had gone out to visit a relative who was living near her home. It was her day off her work and she wanted some company. After sometime, a neighbour came running in panic to seek her out. It appeared that her 27 year old son, Bunthom, a drug addict who had attended rehab for drug addiction in the past, had gone mad. He had burned the family home down.

Son tried to burn down the family home before – his mental health damaged from drug and alcohol abuse

The fire brigade was alerted and responded to the incident. Udom’s house was in an area called Pra Lub in Khon Kaen province within central, northeastern Thailand. All the frightened and shocked woman could do was run, run towards her home with both hope and cold fear in her heart. When she arrived, she was met with a devastating blow. It was already too late, her home was gone. The fire had taken hold of the little house, made in some places with concrete but mostly of wood. The fire brigade were busy at work but it was a damage limitation exercise and an effort to prevent the spread of the fire or harm to others. She told reporters that her son had, in fact, tried to burn the home down before and she knew it was the alcohol and the drugs which were to blame for the loss of the roof over her family’s heads. He son’s mental faculties and sanity had taken a turn for the worse some years previously, from substance abuse.

Thai police found the young man hiding in a tree. He kept admitting his crime, reporting over and over: ‘I burned my house down.’ Medical practitioners had advised his mother, some time ago, that the young man was insane as well as being a drug addict and alcoholic.

Thai woman devastated after son’s destructive act of madness left her family homeless

Udom appeared understandably upset about her misfortune. Of course, the woman was devastated inside. The actions of her son had now brought hardship on his entire family on a cold night in one of Thailand northern provinces. She told reporters that her son had been arrested before for drugs and sent for rehabilitation. When he’d return home he’d give up his medications and quickly revert back to the usual damaging patterns of behaviour. This included regular outbreaks of violence and even attempts to kill himself.

Thai government dealing with a huge range of drug issues that plague the country

The Thai government is dealing with a chronic drug addiction problem throughout Thailand. The drugs are varied. They include the kratom leaf and variations of it, which is devastating the three southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, where there are reports that Islamic insurgents are involved in the trade. Addiction rates among young Muslims in those provinces are growing in the last decade and correlate to a rise in divorce, unheard of until recently in the region. 80% of all divorce cases are due to drug addiction by a marriage partner. A 2016 survey of Thai households, conducted by  the Thai government, showed that up to 6% of all Thai adults had taken illegal drugs and that 3% had taken more than one illegal substance in the last year. This was the 2016 official household survey and the responses were voluntary, so one can expect the figures to be under reported.

Kratom leaf in Thailand also legalised for medicinal use in new law under the Health Ministry

The Thai government, in its move to legalise marijuana for medical use, also included the kratom leaf, which is extremely popular in the country. It has been prohibited since 1943. Some Thai people use it naturally as a leaf to chew on but in recent years, it has been boiled and combined with methamphetamine, codeine cough syrup and cola drinks, in a powerful drug mixture known colloquially as 4X100, which is sold to younger Thai drug users throughout the country. During the course of 2018, the flow of methamphetamine pills, yaba and crystal ice picked up dramatically into Thailand, reported to be due to a breakthrough in the production of the drug in Myanmar, where Taiwanese scientists identified a way of producing the synthetic drug without key, banned ingredients.

Thailand has fought a vicious war to a stalemate against drug kingpins now for over 50 years

Thailand has been fighting a war on drugs for over 50 years. It has waxed and waned during that period and authorities have passed a range of measures such the landmark Suppression of Offenders Act of 1992, which related to outlawed narcotics, to the powerful Money Laundering Act of 1999 or subsequent provisions or regulations to seize the assets of known drug dealers. The war has seen cash payments made to informers, a particular effective approach. In the course of the period from 2008 to 2012, figures show that Thailand paid out ฿344,509,318 to informers or $9,843,123 for information which led to arrests and seizures. In 2008, 54.5% of all criminals landed in Thailand’s prisons were drugs related but this had increased to 71% in 2016 and it is reported to be at 80% today. The height of the drugs war was perhaps, the 2003 initiative which has since blighted the reputation of ex premier Thaksin Shinawatra in some circles, when thousands of extra judicial killings were reported to have been carried out by elements within Thailand. Bounties are reported to have been offered for drug kingpins dead or alive.

Big demand in Thailand for illegal drugs among labouring class supplied by Golden Triangle

The problem is and continues to be the demand for these substances which is particularly high among Thailand’s working or laboring class. Indeed, many of these drugs were first used, before they were prohibited, as a relaxant and stimulant to assist farm labourers deal with the physically demanding effects of back breaking work. Thailand retains a large labour sector, which acts as stabilising, swing factor for employment and food production. The drugs menace has also grown up in urban areas, where some young adults have limited prospects because of lack of education or economic opportunity. The drugs act as a stimulant or coping mechanism. The other aggravating factor is the existence of mini states, comprised of small ethnic minority empires, complete with armies, funding and factories that lie on Thailand’s borders with Myanmar, Laos and China. This is known as the Golden triangle.

Illegal drugs used often as a stimulant among overworked transport drivers in Thailand

There is talk among influencers and advisors of a new, more modern approach to drugs in Thailand. Suggestions have been made that Thailand can look to Europe. However this ignores, firstly, the differences between Thailand and Europe, notably that in Thailand there is no such thing as being paid not to work or for disability. A methamphetamine addict was sent to jail recently in Thailand for 4 years for killing 18 people on a bus coach. The horrific accident happened last March when travelers from Kalasin province in Thailand, hired a bus coach for a day out. They were returning home when tragedy struck. The bus was being driven by a drug addict who ran from the scene and was later apprehended by Thai police. The addiction to methamphetamine had destroyed the man’s sense of judgment. Indeed, Thailand’s transport system, including taxi and min car vans, are a source of concern as some drivers, forced to work long and extended hours, resort to stimulants, sometimes illegal drugs. The pattern of chronic drug use in Thailand is quite different to European countries.

Reformers are suggesting Thailand adopt drug courts

Thailand, a state with good reputation for administration and government run initiatives, has tried many of the modern programmes with notable success in HIV reduction and in countering the threat of Aids. This is still running and encompasses drug users, who are still among over 6,000 cases of HIV in the country diagnosed each year. What many reformers are suggesting, as a way both to tackle addiction and prison overcrowding, is the introduction of drugs courts. These would be set up under the Thai Criminal Justice system and the Thai Ministry of Public Health. It would see a process where addicts are judged by the law and also given medical treatments options to deal with their addictions.

Today Thailand still has record numbers incarcerated for drug offences – the problem is quite stark, intractable but cannot be ignored

Thailand has even introduced methadone programs with over 140 centres across the country. There have been complaints that the distances are too long for drug addiction patients and there have been concerns raised about the activities of some NGOs who end up, through enthusiasm for such initiatives as needle exchange programs, appearing to encourage drug taking. The new law, legalising marijuana for medical purposes, also allows scope for the government to take further measures and it is notable that it is under auspices of the Ministry of Health. Kratom, for medical use, has also beeen legalised. So far, the most effective measures against drugs have been coercive and security force led operations, to intercept consignments at Thailand’s borders and law enforcement operations to send the dealers to prison or death row. Figures up 2017 did show an improvement in addiction rates and seizures fell from a peak of 2013. This may be attributed also to an improving economy, after the military took power in 2014 and a law and order crackdown. However, the huge spike in the flow of drugs in 2018 and the record numbers incarcerated in Thailand show, definitely, that the problem is still very stark.

Doctors say kratom has dangerous health side effects as well as being extremely addictive

Drugs or narcotics such as methamphetamine, yaba, various drug concoctions and even marijuana pose a danger to Thai people, whether legal or not.There is no denying, for instance, that kratom, in particular, is a dangerously addictive substance. It has ravaged Thailand’s Muslim provinces. In Djibouti, a small Muslim nation where it has been legal since independence, and controlled by the government, it is entrapping more and more of the working population in a financial trap, with some workers paying 50% of their salary on the substance while doctors complain of health side effects including weight loss, luck of muscle and premature deaths. Some point out that it less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, but it is far more addictive. That is how it destroys lives.

Danger of creating a sub class of drug takers in Thailand or unleashing the destructive forces of addiction and psychosis

Similarly with marijuana. It is now recognised that, decidedly, it is a drug that has medicinal qualities, particularly in the treatment of cancer side effects and as a powerful painkiller and neuro-protector. However, there is overwhelming medical evidence to link it to psychosis, just as with kratom and methamphetamine abuse. Just like the madness that consumed Udon’s son, Brunthom, who burned the family’s house down. By opening the doors to drugs, society must be careful that it will not create a menace that will consume it with criminal anarchy and strife with a poorer class, forever, divided from the mainstream, both mentally and materially.

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