Addiction Treatment: East vs West

Global News

I think we all have a pretty good idea about basic addiction treatment in America.  Sure, we wish it could be made more widely available and provide a higher rate of relapse free outcomes, but patients, for the most part, are treated with concern and respect once they seek out treatment.  And, while we do ensnare more in the criminal justice system than we’d like, that pales in comparison to how these individuals might otherwise be dealt with throughout Asia and much of the developing world.

In Myanmar, young men suffering from Heroin withdrawal lie naked, tied to medieval wooden stockades, to keep them from running away, as they endure severe sweats and shakes.  They receive no medication, with treatment consisting solely of herbal baths and bible study.  For the first 15 days of a typical treatment they don’t even get counseling because, as the director puts it, “they never tell the truth, they are addicts.”

Harsh Punishments

In Singapore, capital punishment is mandatory for anyone found with as little as 15 grams of pure heroin.  Arrival cards at the airport for foreign visitors even trumpet “DEATH FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS UNDER SINGAPORE LAW”.

At least 33 countries have capital punishment on the books for drug offenses.

While Singapore may have one of the more aggressive policies, they are not alone.  At least 33 countries have capital punishment on the books for drug offenses.  Moreover, even if not executed, many drug users are otherwise sent to toil in hard labor or subjected to beatings and rapes in prisons and rehab centers.

The Philippines technically ended capital punishment in 2006, but recently elected President Duterte’s unofficial sanction of roaming vigilante death squads has resulted in the deaths of more than 6,200 suspected drug dealers and users since his election.  The bloody war on drugs has drawn criticism from international human rights organizations but is nonetheless exceedingly popular on their home front.  These extra-judicial killings of drug users is an affront to everything we know and hold dear in the West about treating drug addiction, but it appears that in the Philippines, there is no end in sight.