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Taking the crime out of drugs
date: 26-January-2005
source : CHINA DAILY
country: CHINA
editorial comment editorial comment
Jesus! After the trade deficit, the USA is soon to be running a drug policy deficit against the PRC!

The community methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) programme is proving an effective therapy for keeping heroin addicts off illegal narcotics and reducing drug-related crime in East China's Zhejiang Province.

So far, about 300 addicts in the province have joined the MMT programme, which has helped keep the majority away from heroin and high-risk intravenous drug use, said Jiang Qingming, director of the Drug Prohibition Division of the Public Security Department of Zhejiang Province.

"Most of them receive rehabilitation through the therapy and can work and live just like normal people." And, to date, only two or three have relapsed.

Methadone is a synthetic narcotic under State control and used for the relief of pain, and as a substitute for the treatment of heroin addiction since it is less addictive and has fewer side effects.

In June 2004, Zhejiang introduced the MMT programme as part of its anti-HIV/AIDS strategy in Wenzhou and Zhoushan.

The project provides heroin addicts with an additional option the prescribed drug methadone of reducing drug abuse-related harm over the long-term time, in particular among intravenous drug users, among the highest HIV risk groups, said Jiang.

Another two MMT clinics will be set up in Hangzhou and Wenzhou in the first half of 2006 thanks to the success of the pilot MMT project in the province, Jiang told China Daily.

"The project has shown the methadone treatment method attracts and retains more intravenous heroin users than any other form of available treatment due to its effectiveness," he continued.

As the low-cost maintenance medication is supplied by the government, addicts do not have to resort to crime to finance their habits.

Addicts on the MMT programme pay 10 yuan (US$1.2) for their daily dose of prescribed methadone supplied under medical supervision.

The ultimate aim is to wean addicts off drugs altogether.

"Inclusion on the programme requires addicts to have a strong enough willpower to withstand a variety of enticements, as they are not allowed to take any other drugs during treatment except the prescribed methadone," said Jiang.

To ensure strict control of the prescribed methadone, addicts take their daily dose under clinical supervision.

Special support groups comprising local police officers, community workers and colleagues and relatives of addicts are organized to help them get through the acute abstinence period.

Addicts are also subject to random urine tests to ensure they are drug free, added Jiang.

If a patient on the methadone programme tests positive for illegal substances they will be thrown off it and required to get off drugs compulsorily.

All on the methadone programme have to meet a series of requirements and apply to the local police to be admitted on a voluntary basis.

The necessary criteria an applicant must meet includes being a heroin addict, over 20 years of age, having at least two periods of abstinence from drugs and having a local address.

"We will protect patients privacy and keep their treatment confidential," said an official with the Provincial Drug Prohibition Team. In China addicts can be compelled by law to undergo rehabilitation after being caught by the police.

Official Statistics from the Provincial Public Security Department show there are currently over 50,000 registered drug addicts in the province.

Jiang said expansion of the MMT project is likely since it is better both for the health of addicts and their families, and also for social stability.

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