The invisible war on drugs : Good VS Evil

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(illustration: IO/Rudraksha)

IO, Jakarta – Narkotika dan obat-obat berbahaya dan terlarang, more popularly abbreviated as “narkoba” in Indonesia, are sub­stances that can result in phys­ical, mental and psychological addiction for their users. In med­icine, drugs categorized as narko­ba are initially useful psychotro­pics (drugs capable of affecting the mind, emotions, and behavior) used to treat depression, or anesthet­ics used in medical operations, in limited quantities. However, the public soon found additional use for recreation and pain-numbing, and they began to use these sub­stances illegally and in higher and higher doses, which endangered and frequently finally killed them. Among the impacts created by ex­cess drug use are neurological, cardiovascular, dermatological, and pulmonary damage.

Other than extensive physical damage, narkoba can also affect a person’s mental state by stripping away confidence, stability, and de­minishes motivation. They become agitated, suffer from mental delu­sions, and will commit all kinds of immoral actions just to feed their addiction. The damage caused by narkoba consumption depends closely on the type of drugs being consumed.

Opioids causes major depression, apathy, exhaustion, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting.

Cocaine accelerates heart rate, causes extreme excitement, non-stop blabbering followed by nervousness, uncontrolled eye movement, and even blood vessel blockage.

Marijuana causes eyes to swell up, disturbs hearing, weakens teeth and jaws, and destroys eye and brain nerves.

Ecstasy (a variant of methamphet­amine) causes a person to be dehy­drated and nervously energetic, so much so that they cannot sleep or stay still for a long time, have droopy eyes and pale face, and eventually damages the brain’s nerves and the liver.

Methamphetamines may cause a person to become paranoid, distract­ed and illogical; excess use will ac­cumulate in the blood, causing heart blood vessels to rupture, finally kill­ing the user.

Narkoba Emergency
Indonesia is in a state of “nar­koba emergency”. The National Narcotics Agency (Badan Narkoti­ka Nasional – “BNN”) says that the level of drug trading in Indonesia is very worrisome: at least 72 net­works from 11 countries import the vile goods into the country. Of the 800 types of new recreational drugs currently available world­wide, BNN recorded at least 68 of them are traded in Indonesia.

The total of Indonesian citizens identified as drug users has ex­ceeded 6 million. Average profit generated by drug networks is up to Rp 1 trillion per network. Drug entry route to Indonesia frequent­ly uses borders of neighboring countries that are not too closely watched, such as the Malaysian and Singaporean borders.

According to BNN records, drug dealing in various cities in Indonesia has reached dangerous levels, targeting mostly the young and state civil apparatus (apara­tur sipil negara – “ASN”) , causing an annual death rate of 15,000 people. Also, according to BNN re­cords, drug users in Indonesia spend Rp 72 trillion on drugs annually, with annual transaction value at Rp 66.3 trillion.

According to Ahwil Lutan, Expert Team Coordinator of BNN, drugs is a major and highly lucrative business. It is no surprise that many choose to take part in this vile business. “People seek profits, because drugs are a cash cow, with amazingly large profits,” Ahwil said to Independent Observer, Monday (12/3/2018). Due to its high level of profitability, var­ious types of drugs find their way into Indonesia. In the latest raid, the joint team comprising of Polri Special Task Force, Directorate of Drug Crimes, and Customs exposed a smuggling operation of 1.6 tons of meth in Batam, Riau Islands, Tues­day (20/2/2018).

The joint achievement of the Police and Customs must be appreciated. However, Devie Rahmawati, Social Observer from University of Indonesia, explains why Indonesia remains a juicy target market for drug dealers:

First, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world. This means that Indonesia represents a large target market. “These entrepreneurs want to make sure that they have a large stock of long-term consumers,” she said.

Second, Indonesia has a large middle-class base, and this base is predicted to continue growing year after year. “Again, this is a juicy target. Drugs require economic resources. Drug targets include all professions of productive age, because they are the people with the money, with the economic resources to bleed dry. There is no profit in selling drugs to poor people. World agencies predict that Indonesia will be a major economic force in the world within the next 10-20 years. This is what drug dealers like – they want to make sure that all that money will be ‘invested’ in drugs,” she says.

Third, productive age. The younger the user, the better, to make sure that they can use drugs for a long period of time. “It is no coincidence that children and teens are the main target for drug use. Because of their youth, they are economically dependent on their parents, and they can use their parents’ money to finance their addiction. This should be properly noted by everyone concerned with drug use,” she said

Devie further said that drug use is not limited to a single profession or category, but all professions: housewives, teachers, students, artists. The modern era pushes people into highly competitive situation, which keeps them from trusting each other and isolate them. Social alienation pushes drug use, because it is an alternative means of escape without relying on other people. Using and selling drugs also helps increase economic prowess, because it generates a lot of money.

Focusing on Prevention
Ahwil acknowledges that the war against drugs is an asymmetrical and invisible struggle. He believes that preventive, corrective, and rehabilitative measures must be made simultaneously. “Yes, we must continue to catch drug users, but we must not forget to prevent drug use. Everyone in the community is responsible for preventing drug use, not just the authorities. Parents should take more responsibility for their children, and beyond families, school members and neighbors must also care for one another. If this fortress is strong, and arrests continue to be made, sooner or later, there will be no more demand. It’s an application of the economic theory, actually – if there is no demand, there is no need to procure and produce the goods,” he said.

Ahwil reiterates that the main key to drug elimination is prevention. “How do we keep this demand low? If there is a large quantity of goods, but no demand, the goods will not be sold. But now the goods come in, and they get snapped up quickly. This means that demand is high. Demand and supply applies in the world of drugs, because it is a commodity. So, we need to lower the demand to zero. Now, demand is high, even if drug dealers are jailed, demand remains high, people still try to get drugs in. This means our preventive measures still do not work properly; we still have not pushed demand down enough,” he said.

Devie also reiterates that prevention must be encouraged to reduce the number of victims. She acknowledges that drugs are a social disease that ruins society. “Even if we cannot eradicate them completely, at least we can wake up society to the fact that they are candidate victims. When they are already victims, even though it is extremely hard, they must be awakened and get themselves to want to heal. That’s the main thing about drug users – the awareness of wanting to heal, everything must start from within themselves. That’s what we need to encourage,” she said.

Similar to Devie, Ahwil prefers to rehabilitate drug users as an answer to the issue. “They must be healed, like any other sick people are. If they aren’t, they will spread the danger to their friends and family, and the accumulative effect on society is dangerous. In Malaysia and Singapore, drug users are both incarcerated and rehabilitated,” he said.

Unfortunately, with the total number of drug users exceeding 6 million people, our limited rehabilitation centers cannot take care of them properly. “The entirety of Indonesian rehabilitation centers can only take in 18,000 people. That’s a mere 0.47% percent of the total need. It will literally take us decades to resolve this. We need to make breakthroughs. Rehabilitation will never entirely bring them (drug users) back to health, but at least they can be returned safely to society,” he said.

Punishment
Ahwil states that our law enforcement is comparable to drug enforcement abroad. This is proven from the fact that many major dealers have been arrested. He notes that our forces work as hard as the Colombian police did in order to capture the drug lord Pablo Escobar. “We have actually arrested quite a few, and jailed them too, and there are people in the death row awaiting their fate. But in this business, you cut down the branch, the sprout still regrows, because the profit in this business is huge, not mere pennies,” he said.

Despite the death penalty, a lot of dealers still play the business. Indonesia is only the latest to apply the death penalty for drug dealers, following Malaysia and Singapore. However, there is no in-depth and actual survey made about the deterrent effect of this law. “For average people, punishment, especially death, should be a deterrent. But these people are aware of the risks and they are desperate to seek money – so if they get caught, for them that’s the risk of the job; if they get away with it, then it’s profit for them. So, they make a cold, rational calculation of the whole thing,” he said.

Ahwil then talked about Thailand’s success in drug extermination, even though Thailand was a center of opium planting along with Laos and Myanmar. “They reduced the risk by mobilizing entire military installations as drug rehabilitation centers. I’ve visited Thailand myself, and there are 40 military camps used as rehabilitation centers. They only have 1 basic drug elimination program, i.e. reducing drug demand using alternative development. They make efforts to empower people, so the people no longer need to plant opium to get money. That’s how they managed to minimize the damage. We are also pushing this program in Aceh to reduce marijuana planting,” he said.

Ahwil further notes that Thailand only succeeded after 30 years of effort. “In terms of the alternative development program, the entire world takes their lesson from Thailand, it is acknowledged worldwide. This is a long-term program. Unfortunately, our government – whether regents, mayors, governors, and even our presidents, only rule for 5-10 years. So, it is not easy to apply in Indonesia,” he said.

Despite the drug emergency situation, Ahwil remains optimistic that we can eradicate drug use together. “We can handle it for sure, but we do need the entire community to participate. After all, we only have a limited number of overworked officers. If the people help with demand reduction, meaning no matter how much goods come in, nobody uses them, then they cannot be sold. But it is far from easy,” he said.

Choky Ramadhan, Chairman and Researcher of the ‘Peneliti Masyarakat Pemantau Peradilan’ Indonesian Court Process Observer Community of the Faculty of Law of the University of Indonesia, comments on the appropriate punishment for both drug users and drug dealers. Choky said that so far, punishment towards drug users and drug dealers does not generate deterrent effect.

“In terms of drug users, our law enforcement efforts are inappropriate. American criminologist Douglas Husak said that the frequency or duration of punishment has no effect on drug-related behavior. No matter how many times or how long or how harsh the punishment is, it all does not matter to drug users. Drug-related crimes are inseparable from community health issues. When people start using drugs, there are actual physical changes in the functioning of their brains and bodies, which require different handling,” he said.

Husak’s theory is self-demonstrating, as seen from drug arrest data. In 2010, the number of drug-related arrests and convictions was 3900 people. In December 2017, the number jumped to a whopping 80-90 thousand. “That’s a 2800% increase. This means that user prevalence actually increased. This is obviously an inappropriate approach for dealing with users,” Choky said.

For users, rehabilitation is the answer. For recreational users, they only need education and more means to relax themselves and reconnect. However, highly dependent and addictive users need intense handling, both medical and social, “So they can return to living with and in the middle of society,” he said.

Choky has a separate view on drug users. Other than imposing harsh prison sentences on them, Choky suggests that they should also be charged with a Money Laundering (Tindak Pidana Pencucian Uang – “TPPU”) punishment. “As I see it, drug crimes are related to monetary crimes, because basically this is a crime perpetrated purely to obtain as much profit as possible. I think that the imposition of TPPU charges in drug-related cases is not yet sufficient,” he said.

Choky also disapproves of the death penalty for drug dealers. “Taking away somebody’s life, with such unequal and uneven justice process, that is inappropriate. I prefer to have the wealth of these drug dealers be confiscated by the state. When they have become poor, they can no longer use their money to bribe law enforcement officers. There is much research done on the effectiveness of the death penalty for various crimes; there is very little reduction. So, the use of death penalty to deter people, to scare them, remains questionable even now. Even if there is any impact, it’s too little to matter,” he said. (Dessy Aipipidely)