Crackdowns and cutbacks: Indonesia’s drug policy

Rizki Mulyadi sits half-submerged in a steaming herbal bath, hands folded in his lap and head down.

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The 26-year-old hopes the concoction he is bathing in – and the Islamic teacher who makes it – will help him overcome a six-year addiction to the drug of choice for many in Indonesia: crystal methamphetamine, or “meth”.

The traditional rehabilitation centre in Purbalingga village on Java island says it has treated hundreds of addicts, such as Mulyadi, with herbal teas and baths, prayer and counseling.

“There is an urgent need to have a more nuanced conversation about what effective, human rights-compliant treatment entails in Indonesia, and to clearly differentiate between compulsory or mandatory forms of treatment, and truly voluntary, community-based options,” Rick Lines, executive director at UK-based Harm Reduction International, said.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo says drugs pose a bigger danger than armed groups. He has ordered an intensification of a war on narcotics, including the execution of drug traffickers – the latest last week when three Nigerians and an Indonesian faced a firing squad.

But while raids, arrests and punishments pick up, state funding for rehabilitation, that weans people off drugs and cuts demand, is dwindling.

That leaves thousands of people such as Mulyadi with few affordable options, in a country that within years has gone from being a drug transit point to one of Southeast Asia’s biggest markets for narcotics.

According to government estimations, there are six million drug users in Indonesia, a country of 250 million people. Of those, more than one million are addicted to meth, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said in a 2013 report.

But less that one percent of dependent users got treatment in 2014, compared with a global average of 16 percent, the UN report said.


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