KUALA LUMPUR, June 18 — The government spent almost RM850 million to imprison people for minor drug offences and to hold addicts in state-run rehabilitation centres in 2017, a harm reduction advocate said.
Malay Mail reported Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, a professor in infectious disease from Universiti Malaya, as saying that the government can slash its budget by two-thirds through a community-based harm reduction programme.
“We spent up to RM643 million to incarcerate people for minor drug offences and RM200 million more for those in Puspem,” she was quoted telling a forum on drug law reform yesterday.
“But it would cost only a third if we introduce a harm reduction programme that is community-based.”
Malay Mail reported that methadone clinics in Malaysia prevented two-thirds of their patients from relapsing, something which government-funded rehabilitation centres could not achieve.
Dr Adeeba, a director at the Centre for Excellence for Research in Aids (Ceria) that operates methadone clinics, said the government can save up to RM1 billion in treating HIV by 2050 if it continues with harm reduction. From 2013 to 2023, she said, the government is expected to save up to RM40 million.
The success of the clinics also depends on providing drug addicts psycho-social support and helping them find long-term employment.
“How do you expect them to recover if we confine them in horrible conditions? Incarceration leads to stigmatisation, which doesn’t allow them to get jobs,” Dr Adeeba was quoted saying.