Time to change the drug rehabilitation process


“Pusat Serenti”, Malaysia’s compulsory drug detention centres has always been deemed a failure. It has been plagued by inefficiencies, corruption and poor staffing.

Drug addicts are often involved in crime and some of them violent, inviting a label of being the pariahs of society. So such detention centres are often seen as justice.

However, many do not believe that criminalising drug addicts and keeping them in a confined space is humane and this practice may even contradict basic human rights.

Drug rehabilitation advocates have longed fought for a change in the way Malaysia runs its drug rehabilitation process. Adding humanity to this process via a voluntary programme has been seen as more effective and certainly humane way of tackling this issue.

So far, it has never been backed by evidence until now. A recent research paper titled “Relapse to opioid use in opioid-dependent individuals released from compulsory drug detention centres compared with those from voluntary methadone treatment centres in Malaysia: a two-arm, prospective observational study” published in The Lancet in December adds much needed evidence that is hoped can finally convince the authorities to reallocate much of their resources from a clearly inferior strategy to one that is more evidence based.

According to this paper’s co-author, Professor Adeeba Kamarulzaman, half of the people who were held in compulsory centres relapsed within 31 days after release compared with 352 days in voluntary centres – a 10 fold increase. One month after their release, just over half (51%) of those from compulsory centres were opioid-free, compared with nearly all (90%) of those from voluntary centres. After six months, only one in five (19%) of those from compulsory centres were still opioid-free, compared with more than two-thirds (69%) of those from voluntary centres.

She adds that “The health, social, economic and human costs of doing something as ineffective as these compulsory drug detention centres are just too high for us to continue business as usual.”



The Lancet

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