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Thailand is orienting its drug policy towards a public health oriented paradigm

Six decades ago, the northernmost reaches of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar produced more than 70 percent of all opium sold worldwide, most of it refined into heroin. Thailand as part of this “Golden Triangle” was considered the major opium producing country. Due to successful development programs, this is history. In 2003, the United Nations withdrew Thailand from the list of opium producing countries. Yet the country faces a massive drug problem: synthetic substances flood the market and pose a health risk to the Thai population. Because repressive measures alone are not efficient, Thailand is increasingly orienting its drug policy towards health policy and it is exchanging knowledge and experiences with other countries, such as Germany. The GPDPD promotes this exchange.

For drug traffickers Thailand has become a transit country for methamphetamines for the Pacific region. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC, 2017), the problem is serious: Because of this availability, the drug market in Southeast Asia has expanded. UNODC estimates that there are over 13 million drug users in the region, which has a population of around 650 million.


In the past years, Thailand has increased its efforts in reforming its drug policy and implementing the Outcome Document of the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem in 2016. Part of this has been strengthening the focus on health in its drug policy, including the Harm Reduction approach. 


The Global Partnership on Drug Policies and Development (GPDPD) contributes to Thailand’s endeavour through a cooperation with the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) which has been a close partner for German development cooperation for many years. Germany is one of the few countries worldwide that offer a wide spectrum of Harm Reduction measures and decades of expertise. Against this background, the GPDPD organised a series of peer advisory activities with German experts from the field of treatment, rehabilitation and Harm Reduction. Those activities have been seconded by a dissemination in Thai language of the S3 Guidelines on Treatment of Methamphetamine-related Disorders. Instead of considering users as criminals, the guideline recognises drug dependence as a chronic disease and Harm Reduction as a health-oriented treatment approach. Thus, the S3 guideline provides a tool for implementing drug policies that put people first.