Side event: Malaysia’s integrated approach to the drug problem

Organized by the Government of Malaysia.

Addressing the threat of kratom and methamphetamine in Malaysia

Permanent Representative of Malaysia in Vienna: Kratom is a growing threat in our region and we have two experts who will share their experience concerning this menace of kratom and methamphetamine.

National Anti-Drugs Agency: Kratom is a tropical tree that can grow easily in Southeast Asia. We will discuss the effects and legislation as well as our efforts to reduce demand. (Short video clips showing: kratom cultivation; young people drinking a concoction purported to be kratom-based; a person preparing a drink with kratom, cough syrup and coca cola; a person deep-frying kratom leaves; a couple of people handling powders purported to be kratom powder marketed as henna powder; a laboratory of kratom preparation; a video of kratom manufacture into liquid). Malaysia is part of the three Conventions, so the country recognises only medical and scientific uses. The rising trend and misuse to achieve opiate-like effects with kratom is, thus, a challenge. Kratom is in the same family of the coffee tree. The plant contains 25 indole alkaloids and their activity in the brain provides sedation and stimulant effects. Kratom is not new. It has been used at least since 1845. Traditionally, to treat wounds, fever and other ailments. It is also reputed to enhance physical strength. So it has been used by labourers for stamina. Now kratom is being prepared as a cocktail drink (kratom, carbonated drink, cough mixture, ice cubes, others) to get the most of the psychoactive effects. Worrisome that kratom is being used to make other drugs’ effects stronger. Intoxication symptoms vary from shivers to nausea. Users that consume more than 3 glasses a day will be more likely to develop dependence.  Withdrawal symptoms include hot flashes, nausea, anxiety, depression, etc. There are studies on kratom, particularly on addiction, safety, potential for medicinal use and potential for opioid substitution therapy. The misuse of kratom is an offence under the Poison Act 1952 in Malaysia. The person committing an offence will be liable to a hefty fine and a prison sentence of up to 4 years. Kratom seizures have increased substantially in liquid and leaf form. In terms of demand-reduction efforts, we have put together prevention programmes (drug-free programmes, education institution programmes, community programmes and workplace programmes). We’re focusing on areas where there’s high use.  We have had positive results and reduce at-risk areas. We are planning to enhance specific legislation. At the moment, planting is not illegal, only use; the government will make it an offence to plant kratom as well except for medication and research purposes. The penalty for Kratom possession has been increased. Treatment provision will be boosted.

Narcotics Crime and Investigation Department: Drug trafficking activities are highly problematic for the world and Malaysia. It threats economic structures. Opium and marihuana were introduced by Chinese and Indian immigrants during the British colonies. Then, young adults influenced by the hippy subculture. American soldiers brought morphine during the Vietnam War and introduced the problem to the country. In the 1990s, party drugs began to spread (heroin, yaba, meth, ecstasy, etc.). Malaysia became a transit country, but consumption took on domestically. Nowadays, new psychoactive substances, which mimic the effects of “traditional” drugs, such as heroin, cannabis and cocaine, have began too. Malaysia has increased interdiction efforts. Seizures have increased significantly. We estimate 4.7 million street users of methamphetamine in Malaysia. Seizures of methamphetamine have increased 26% compared to previous 4 years. A significant amount of meth is trafficked into Malaysia as Chinese tea bags. The country is used as a transhipment point to other countries. This explains the substantial rise in seizures. Thus, NCDI continues to monitor these activities resulting in successful seizures. In September of last year, a joint interagency intervention seized drugs worth RM73 million and apprehended over a dozen locals. In July 2018, a joint investigation seized 156 kg of meth sourced from the Golden Triangle (worth RM 7.8 million). A similar case in Penang seized 1.07 tons of methamphetamine; the biggest seizure in the country’s history. In terms of challenges, transnational drug related crime, new trafficking routes and methods, new technologies to overcome detention, human rights and jurisdiction issues. The use of soft drugs is a first step into dependence and harder drugs. The drug problem is a threat to the national security, and our approach is producing positive results.  In terms of measures taken, we continue to take action, providing intelligence and joint investigation with regional drug enforcement agencies, collaborating with key regional partners through enforcement capacity-building, and other cross-border cooperation.

Questions and answers.

[???]: What is the plan to include a ban of plantation. Nowadays it’s not illegal. How to prevent that from increasing the crime rate. There’s a potential beneficial effect to kratom.
National antidrugs agency: We will continue to permit research into these substances. The number of seizures and rising trend of abuse, especially among children, compels us to make it illegal to plant. But we encourage further research done by local universities and other research centres. We believe that there is some medicinal value, but by banning the kratom cultivation we will improve our control. If you cannot have the plant, seizures will increase.
[???]: You say it is allowed for medical purposes. But the research is still going on.
National antidrugs agency: We need to wait until research is clear. Planting for research involves applying for permits to the Ministry of Health.

[???]: I am reminded of Peru, where the coca leaf has been used traditionally but cultivation goes far beyond traditional uses and into illicit purposes.
National antidrugs agency: The main problem is that children and other people are using this and starting their drug careers.

Giada Girelli, Harm Reduction International: Could you elaborate on how human rights is a challenge in your response to drugs?
NCDI: The law implemented in one country is different from one another. In Malaysia, capital punishment is death penalty. The law has been amended to give the choice to the judges to impose other punishments. The additional section allows judges to impose life imprisonment. It give more flexibility to the judges. We apply different kinds of law in the region and that makes it complex to collaborate, as investigation times might differ, for instance. We try to strike a balance between law enforcement oblgiations and human rights.

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