Sat, 25 Jan 2003

Activists urge concerted effort to fight drugs

Damar Harsanto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

As the police intensify their war on drugs, activists are calling for a comprehensive and concerted effort to combat drug abuse and trafficking in Jakarta.

"The government's flawed efforts to combat drug abuse and trafficking has allowed the trade to reach alarming level in society," said antidrug activist Henry Yosodiningrat of the National Anti-Addiction Movement on Friday.

Henry, who is also a lawyer, was referring to the perceived failure of the government to curb the influx of illegal drugs into the city, to stop the sale of illegal drugs and to provide rehabilitation for drug addicts.

To deal with the problem, the police have made the drug problem their second priority, after terrorism. Police have arrested dozens of people and charged them with drug-related crimes over the last several weeks.

"We have yet to conduct a survey on the drug supply in the capital or on the exact number of drug addicts here. But, definitely, it accounts for a significant share of the country's total (in these two areas)," Henry said.

His NGO estimates there are about four million drug addicts in the country, basing its estimate on data gathered from rehabilitation centers, hospitals and police reports nationwide.

"Lets say, if each drug addict uses a gram of drugs a day costing Rp 200,000, that means that every day around four tons of drugs are circulating in the market, costing a total of Rp 800 billion. That is a massive amount that is taken from our society," he said.

Another drug expert, Dadang Hawari Idries, estimated that the number of drug addicts might be 10 times as high as reported.

An activist from the Cinta Anak Bangsa Foundation, Veronica Colondam, has some surprising data about drug use and junior high school and high school students, who are generally between the ages of 12 and 19.

"Eight percent of students from junior high school up to high school in Jakarta have tried drugs, and one in four of these are regular drug users," Veronica said.

She said these figures were based on surveys taken between 2000 and 2002 of junior high school and high school students in 12 large cities across the country, including Jakarta.

"It simply shows that the number of drug users has reached alarming level among teenagers, not to mention adults," Veronica remarked.

Veronica said the high number of teenagers using drugs was the result of poor home and social lives with little of the proper monitoring that children require.

Many teenagers are surrounded by high-risk factors such as parents who are drug addicts or alcoholics, families that have little appreciation for education, peer groups who are repeatedly involved in brawls and peer groups who use drugs, she said.

"The lack of protection afforded teenagers from drugs is, in most cases, the reason why many teenagers use drugs," Veronica said.

Veronica said efforts to reduce both the supply and demand of drugs must be addressed simultaneously. Otherwise, she said, measures to fight drug trafficking would be ineffectual.

"Our antidrug campaign telling students not to use drugs will be to no avail if drugs continue to glut the market," she said.