Drug Addiction Is A Chronic Disease, Say Doctors

Medication assisted therapy has over 60% retention treatment rates.

KUALA LUMPUR, June 25 — Doctors’ groups have welcomed the government’s move to decriminalise drug use by treating addiction as a disease rather than a criminal offence. 

Private doctors’ group Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Associations Malaysia (FPMPAM) and the Addiction Medicine Association of Malaysia (AMAM), comprising doctors and allied health care professionals in addiction medicine, said they have long advocated for medication assisted therapy (MAT) together with psychosocial intervention to help drug users.

“The scientific evidence of addiction as a chronic brain disorder is irrefutable,” FPMPAM and AMAM said in a joint statement yesterday.

“Amendments to relevant provisions in the Drug Dependants (Treatment and Rehabilitation) Act 1983 will enable those in addiction to legally and confidently seek medical treatment.”

FPMPAM and AMAM said that over 900 general practitioners (GPs) have been trained in their community-based MAT programme.

“To date, our nationwide community-based MAT programme have taken more than 24,000 patients with heroin addiction off the streets. Retention treatment rates have been more than 60 per cent when the data was last analysed in 2014. 

“Within two years following the introduction of MAT in Malaysia, important parameters like HIV-associated IV drug use death rate and drug-related arrests have been shown to fall significantly.” 

Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said yesterday after meeting with Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad that the Home Ministry has defined drug addicts as “patients” and focused on “cure and care” instead of punishing drug addiction, as part of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government’s bid to decriminalise drug addiction.

Muhyiddin also said his ministry was considering removing drug addicts, users, and possessors from registration under the Registration of Criminals and Undesirable Persons Act 1969.

However, he stressed that “decriminalisation” of drug use did not mean amending or repealing current laws, but it was simply an administrative matter, while Dzulkefly similarly said decriminalisation required detailed studies first.

PH has yet to abolish the death penalty for drug offences, amid strong public opposition to repealing death sentences. 

The previous Barisan Nasional government removed the mandatory death penalty for drug offences by giving judges discretionary sentencing powers.  

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