Malaysia to focus on health not criminality in new drug policy

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - Malaysia's new strategy to combat drugs will focus on health and social support for users rather than enforcing criminal laws.

The Cabinet task force to address the drug problem met on Thursday (Jan 17) and is of the opinion that Malaysia's Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 needs to be reviewed and that drug use should be viewed as a social health issue, Liew Vui Keong, a Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, said in a statement earlier this week.

"Enforcement shouldn't hinge on trafficking of drugs and shouldn't rely on punishing those who are using the drugs," Liew said. Criminal enforcement has been ineffective, expensive and endangered the health of addicts, he said.

The change of approach comes amid Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's efforts to eradicate drug use, change related laws and abolish the death penalty in the South-east Asian nation.

"Health-based approaches to drugs are shown to be cost-effective" and have a positive impact, Naomi Burke-Shyne, executive director of Harm Reduction International, said in a statement on Thursday responding to the Malaysian initiative.

Malaysia is also considering imposing night-time curfews on young people under 18 years of age in a bid to protect them from negative influences such as drugs.