Monday, 11 June 2007

Drug Rehabilitation: Prohibition VS Harm Reduction?

With the adherence to the UN conventions, the Maldives adopted the prohibitionist stance promoted by countries such as the United States. The prohibitionist stance fitted with the Islamic Shari’a, and as a result, no effort was done to look for other alternatives. At the time of the UN conventions. Although substance abuse was reported (UNDCP, 2000) it was not classified as a problem by the Maldivian government at that time. When the ‘drug problem’ did start emerging in the late 1980’s the law was amended in 1995 to incorporate a drug rehabilitation service. This move showed that the Maldives no longer strictly adhered to the prohibitionist stance. Rather we started moving away to provide treatment to users. This amendment did still however, retain the prohibitionist language of users being labelled as criminals and had harsher sentences for ‘traders/dealers’. The law at that stage did allow a one time chance for rehabilitation, and if there was a relapse on the part of the client, no more opportunities were given. A later amendment to the law provided the substance abuser with two more opportunities for rehabilitation for convicted substance abusers and also the unique opportunity to enter rehabilitation without having a police record (the opportunity to volunteer). The alarming increase in the substance abusing population (FASHAN et al., 2003) has raised a need for research on culturally acceptable options that would not conflict with the Islamic Shari’a. It is understandable why local researchers would hesitate to suggest harm reduction strategies or methods as a solution to the substance abuse problem. It is perceived that harm reduction methods would be in direct conflict with Shari’a. That is implementing harm reduction strategies would probably mean accepting substance abuse as not a legal problem and there is the belief that this would enhance the belief that substance abuse is not prohibited in Shari’a.
Substance abuse is a problem in other Islamic countries as well. The major categories of the substances abused in these countries include opium, and its derivative, cannabis, khat, alcohol and certain manufactured psychoactive derivatives (Baasher, 1981). With the exception of alcohol there is no reference to any of the drugs mentioned above in the early Islamic era, and there is no direct mention of either of them in the Qur’an or the hadith/sunna (sayings and practices of the Prophet). In later periods in history, the lack of this reference in the Qur’an and hadiths have created a state of dilemma with regard to the use of dependence-producing drugs. Baasher (1981) states that, it is not unusual to come across a person from Sudan or Egypt who abuses some sort of substance with the firm conviction that it was not wrong to indulge in the use of these drugs because they have not been prohibited by Allah, since they were not mentioned in the Qur’an. This attitude seems to have filtered into the Maldivian culture as well. Alcohol is haram (prohibited) while substance abuse is not a good thing to do (but not haram). This belief is upheld because the legal system currently prescribes 40 hadd for people who consume alcohol and is not included in the Law on Narcotics and Psychotropic substances. It is worth noting that Islamic shari’a has clearly stipulated that whatever constitutes a dependence-producing drug and which, therefore should be regarded as harmful, should not be consumed by any Muslim. There is no data available to determine the cause of this split in the legislature between substances of abuse and Alcohol. However, since Maldives is trying to endeavour with the Islamic principles to comply with the Islamic doctrine, it would be useful to look at the model that was first implemented in Islam. The model gave due consideration to the prevailing ecological factors and a step-by-step system of gradual desensitization, persuasion and effective community involvement (Baasher, 1981).

The above text is a direct replication from a thesis done on Maldives Rehabiliation...(with permision from the author)