Thu, May 11, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Families of drug addicts frequently live in fear

ADDICTION One woman whose family has faced threats from her brother, who is a heroin addict, said the government should extend its rehab programs

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

For the families of drug addicts, the biggest problem may not be who or where to turn to, but how to survive under a shadow of fear.

Desperately worried for her life and that of her family, a woman surnamed Huang turned to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Huang Wei-cher (黃偉哲) for help, hoping her family's story would prompt the government to consider prolonging rehabilitation programs and shortening the time from arrest to either jailing or rehabilitation, which usually takes about eight to 12 months.

Huang's younger brother has been doing drugs since high school. He started with amphetamines and now is a heroin addict, she said, adding that he has been in and out of jail and rehabilitation centers.

"Living with him is like living with a time bomb. We don't know when it will go off," she said. "I remember vividly my mother was chased down by my brother who had a knife in his hand. She was holding one of his babies in her arm and the other in her hand."

Sometimes Huang's father would call the police to arrest his son, but a few hours later they would be notified to bail him out.

"If we don't bail him out, he will threaten us or call up his friends to post bail for him," she said.

To buy drugs, Huang said her brother has borrowed money from loan sharks and her parents were forced to sell one of their homes to pay off his debts.

Currently, first-time drug offenders are put under observation for between 40 days and two months. Those found to need a rehabilitation program will undergo therapy lasting from six months to a year.

Those convicted of using the first category of drugs are subject to a jail term of between six months and five years. The first category includes cocaine, heroine, opium and morphine.

Those convicted of using the second category of drugs -- opium poppy, coca, marijuana and amphetamine -- face prison terms of up to three years, while users of the third category of drugs, such as ketamine, or the fourth category of drugs, such as barbital, are not subject to any criminal punishment.

Statistics released by the Ministry of Justice show that more than 81 percent of convicted drug users are repeat offenders.

But imprisonment and rehabilitation do not seem to help drug addicts like Huang's brother. He got out of prison last July and went back to heroin six months later.

Shih Mei-chun (石美春), senior specialist at the Bureau of Medical Affairs under the Department of Health, said that drug addicts can kick the habit and encouraged them to take advantage of the rehabilitation programs offered by 121 of the nation's hospitals.

Huang, however, said that although the family knows where the resources are, it was impossible to check her brother in to a facility. Their first and last attempt ended up with the family paying a large sum after he destroyed public property at a rehabilitation center.

Chen Shih-huang (陳世煌) of the Investigation Department under the Criminal Investigation Bureau said that he can empathize with Huang because it was easy to bail out drug addicts and the time between the arrest and the execution of a sentence often drags on too long.

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