UBC Community, Partners, and Alumni Publications

Public Health and Drug Policing in Malaysia : Using Empirical Evidence for Advocacy Rahman, Fifa; Salleh, Iqa Mohd; Golichenko, Olga; Lunze, Karsten

Abstract

After declaring a “War on Drugs” in 2003, Malaysia adopted harm reduction as official policy in 2006 to reduce substance use related risks and subsequently implemented needle-and-syringe exchange programs and methadone maintenance therapies. Seven years after the inception of Malaysia’s harm reduction policy, the Centre of Excellence and Research in AIDS (CERiA) and the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) carried out qualitative research with police officers and people who use drugs to determine attitudes towards harm reduction and drug use, and to elicit perspectives on better approaches in drug law enforcement. We conducted qualitative research with 20 people who use drugs and 11 police officers based in police stations in various states in Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur, Pahang, and Kelantan). These interviews showed that police often lack understanding on the efficacy and operation of harm reduction programs. Interviews with people who use drugs pointed to a host of police practices that constitute barriers to treatment, including physical violence and psychological abuse, corrupt practices and failure to inform individuals of their rights. These results will inform subsequent quantitative surveys to generate further evidence on drug law enforcement and public health implications in Malaysia. Based on these empirical findings, we undertook evidence-based advocacy, maintaining an advocacy log containing key events including meetings with key officials, tweets, emails and text messages that contributed to improving police awareness about harm reduction and drug evidence-based drug policy. This chapter summarizes our approach to and results of evidence-informed advocacy work. Our experience of this qualitative research and its gains for advocacy demonstrate that larger scale interventions involving high-level police officials may be necessary to change policing practices, some of which are structural or are ingrained in police culture but oppose public health evidence. Numerous studies and reports have proven that harsh penalties and oppressive policing negatively impact public health, increase marginalisation, and increase drug-related crime, and that the inverse i.e. decriminalisation paired with access to voluntary health services improve public health and reduce drug-related crime. (Hughes & Stevens, 2012; Fullerton, et al, 2014; GCDP, 2014; Rhodes, et al, 2006) Negative practices have the potential to seep (and in some cases, are already seeping) into other agencies in drug policy and drug control. A consolidated written drug policy would assist in mitigating these issues, as we outline below.

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