Fri, Jul 20, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: The reality of drug addiction

After months of police harassing the country's celebrity community for minor drug infractions, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Joanna Lei (雷倩) decided to give the absurd campaign even more attention on Wednesday with a rare bipartisan effort to keep wealthy stars' "human rights" -- confused with civil liberties, presumably -- from being trampled on by police.

Such publicity stunts are nothing new for Taiwan's politicians. But set against the backdrop of recent events, it highlights just how ludicrous the authorities' efforts to fight illegal drug use have become.

Local celebrities are model citizens compared with their counterparts in many other countries. References to drugs and violence are practically unheard of in popular music. They tend to stay out of rehab, and keep themselves on the front pages of gossip sections with endless breakups and makeups rather than wrecking their cars while high on ecstasy. Like anyone, they have their indiscretions, but by and large they maintain clean images and tend to be decent role models.

Strange then that the police would choose to make such an innocuous portion of the population the target of a witch hunt. Presumably, they are trying to make examples of them. But warning youths not to do drugs lest they end up like the otherwise healthy, functioning and successful adults that they watch on TV is counterproductive.

But of course, none of this is about fighting drugs. It's about publicity -- publicity for the police, and now for politicians. The nation's drug issues are trivialized, with sheepish celebrities pretending to repent, and kids getting the impression that drug addiction is nothing that a tearful TV apology won't fix.

In fact, the problems with drug addiction run much deeper than that. Just two days after last weekend's amnesty, eight released inmates had already died of overdoses. Yet celebrities' reputations are apparently more pressing for legislators than the scores of heroin addicts that were unceremoniously dumped back out on the street without supervision or support.

While artists Jason Tang (唐志中) and Landy Chang (張培仁) complain about how they're going to get fewer product endorsements, thousands of faceless people with serious addiction problems are facing adjusting to the real world without any help from a government that has already forgotten them.

Prison officials and politicians made grand speeches about giving people who had made past mistakes a chance to start anew. But they're not going to help with the medical realities of addiction. They seem to think that months or years locked inside a prison cell must surely have been just what users needed to cure them of this affliction.

But people who are released after being imprisoned for drug use need more long-term support and guidance than people who steal or commit fraud. When thousands are released all at once, government agencies lack the resources to help them adjust. Having police set up extra checkpoints on the road and raid karaoke bars with M-16s is not a substitute.

Amnesties are nice, but they need to be done carefully rather than just throwing the gates open and wishing everyone good luck. People with drug problems should be let out gradually so that authorities have the resources to provide the support and monitoring services that they require.

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