The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been concerned with the abuse of narcotics and in trafficking in illegal drugs for more than two decades now. Cognizant of the multifarious consequences of drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking, ASEAN has advocated a collective regional response to the control and prevention of drug abuse.

The association’s resolve to combat this menace can be traced back as early as the ASEAN Experts Group Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Drug Abuse in 1972. A further boost to combat the problem was derived from the Bali Accord 1976 signed by the Heads of Government/State of the founding members of ASEAN which called for the intensification of cooperation among member states as well as with the relevant international bodies in the prevention and eradication of the abuse of narcotics and the illegal trafficking of drugs.

 The adoption of the ASEAN Declaration of Principles to Combat the Abuse of Narcotics Drugs in 1976 by ASEAN Foreign Ministers proved to be a major landmark in ASEAN’s efforts towards regional collaboration in drug abuse prevention and control. This declaration provided the framework for the adoption of a programme of action in the context of cooperation to combat the abuse of narcotics drugs.

 An immediate response to the declaration was the convening of the First Meeting of ASEAN Drug Experts in Singapore in the same year. This meeting formulated recommendations in four major areas: enforcement and legislation, treatment and rehabilitation; prevention and information; training and research. The meeting also formulated strategies to enhance mutual cooperation for the implementation of the ASEAN Declaration of Principles; and the presentation of drug laws promulgated in ASEAN member countries.

 The need for a regional approach in drug abuse control and prevention was emphasized with the adoption of an ASEAN Regional Policy and Strategy in the Prevention and Control of Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking by the 8th ASEAN Drug Experts Meeting in 1984. The document represented a significant departure from the perception of the drug problem as merely a social and health problem to one that gives equal consideration to the other implications in terms of national security, stability, prosperity and resilience.

 This regional action plan urges ASEAN countries to exert uniformity in views, approaches and strategies and more effective coordination at the national, regional and international levels and empowering the NGOs in the effort to eliminate drug abuse. It also encourages the adoption of a balanced security and prosperity approach in tackling the drug abuse problem. Furthermore, the action plan recommends the incorporation of both supply and demand reduction measures and the enhancement of the legal control system.

 In 1985, the concern expressed by ASEAN Foreign Ministers that drug abuse and illicit trafficking could seriously endanger the development of nations and undermine the security and well-being of mankind led to the “ASEAN Foreign Ministers Joint Statement on the International Problem of Drug Abuse and Trafficking”.

 In more recent times, ASEAN has reiterated the urgent need to act against this ever- increasing menace. ASEAN leaders, at their 2nd informal summit in 1997 adopted the ASEAN Vision 2020 document setting out a broad vision for ASEAN in the year 2020. Among the goals forecast is the creation of a drug-free Southeast Asia and a region of agreed rules of behaviour and cooperative measures to deal with problems that can only be met on a regional scale.

 ASEAN Foreign Ministers, also signed the Joint Declaration for a Drug-Free ASEAN affirming the association’s commitment to eradicate the production, processing, trafficking and use of illicit drugs in Southeast Asia by the year 2020. At the 6th ASEAN Summit in 1998, the ASEAN leaders reiterated their calls for strengthening and promoting regional linkages among ASEAN institutional mechanisms, including those involved in fighting drug abuse and trafficking. They also adopted the Hanoi Plan of Action, the first in a series of action plans to realize the ASEAN Vision 2020.

 There are also other statements and declarations which underscores ASEAN’s commitment and resolve in combating and eradicating the problem drug abuse and illicit trafficking of drugs in the region.

 ASEAN Bodies In Combating Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking.

 There are a number of ASEAN bodies that are involved, directly or indirectly, in formulating policies and initiating activities against drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking, which, in the context of ASEAN cooperation, comes under the broader framework of transnational crime. They include:

ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime (AMMTC)

The 2nd meeting of the AMMTC in 1999 has adopted the ASEAN Plan of Action to Combat Transnational Crime. The plan has established mechanisms and activities to extend ASEAN member countries efforts to combat transnational crime, including the abuse of narcotics and trafficking in illegal drugs, from the national and bilateral levels to the regional dimension, and strengthen regional commitment and capacity to undertake the expanded task. The plan of action will put in place a cohesive regional strategy to fight transnational crimes, and will encompass information exchange, cooperation in legal and law enforcement matters, institutional capacity building, training and extra-regional cooperation as key programme activities. On legal matters for example, the plan of action advocates the criminalisation in ASEAN member countries of specific crimes, including illicit drug trafficking.

The ASEAN Secretariat is currently seeking technical assistance from ASEAN dialogue partners, relevant international and regional organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to assist in developing a work programme to operationalise the plan of action.

ASEAN Finance Ministers Meeting

At the very first meeting in 1997, the ASEAN Finance Ministers signed the ASEAN Agreement on Customs, which apart from enhancing ASEAN cooperation in customs activities, aims to strengthen cooperation in combating trafficking in narcotics and psychotropic substances.

ASEAN Senior Officials on Drug Matters

ASEAN cooperation in drugs and narcotics control initially came under the purview of the Meetings of the ASEAN Drug Experts which had its very first meeting in 1976 and which was under the coordination of the Committee on Social Development (COSD). Meeting annually since then, the meeting was renamed the ASEAN Senior Officials on Drug Matters (ASOD) in 1984.

Its mandate includes enhancing the implementation of the ASEAN Declaration of Principles to Combat the Drug Problem of 1976; consolidate and strengthen collaborative efforts in the control and prevention of drug problems in the region; bring about the eventual eradication of narcotics plans cultivation in the region; and design, implement, monitor and evaluate all ASEAN programmes of action in drug abuse prevention and control.

Currently ASOD’s initiatives on drugs are based on the ASEAN three-year Plan of Action on Drug Abuse Control that was adopted at the 17th ASOD meeting held in October 1994. Prepared by the ASEAN Secretariat and with funding support from the UNDP, the action plan covers four priority areas: preventive drug education, treatment and rehabilitation; enforcement; and research.

In preventive education and information, various workshops on drug education for teachers and curriculum designers and comparative research on preventive education have been conducted. Cooperative activities in law enforcement includes the exchange of law enforcement officers/personnel, the conduct of training programmes with the assistance of international agencies and the sharing of information concerning trends, modus operandi and routes of narcotics trafficking. ASEAN members have conducted regular exchanges of personnel involved in treatment and rehabilitation at the operational level.

These programmes are complemented by the efforts of four training centres based in ASEAN member countries; the ASEAN Training Centre for Narcotics Law Enforcement in Bangkok, the ASEAN Training Centre for Preventive Drug Education in Manila, the ASEAN Training Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation in Kuala Lumpur and the ASEAN Training Centre for the Detection of Drugs in Body Fluids in Singapore.

To operationalise the Plan of Action, a work programme has been adopted which includes ten project proposals in the four areas as above.

    1)Training of Trainers in Interpersonal Skills and Peer Support Counselling in Drug Education .

    2) Promoting Drug Abuse Prevention Activities Among Out-of-School Youth.

    3) Promotion of Drug Control Activities in the Workplace.

    4) Training on Effective Management in Prevention Drug Education Programmes

    5) Enhancement of Community-Based Drug Prevention Activities

    6) ASEAN Training Seminar for Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Counsellors

    7) ASEAN Training on Financial Investigations

    8) Training on Intelligence Operations Management and Supervision

    9) ASEAN Seminar on Mutual Legal Assistance.

    10) ASEAN Seminar on Precursor Chemicals.

Of the above proposals, projects # 4, 6 and 9 have been implemented, while the remaining seven projects are pending.

The implementation of the work programme will no doubt assist ASEAN in reducing the threat of drug abuse and trafficking and enhances the security, social and economic well-being of its peoples and ultimately contribute towards the realization of a drug-free ASEAN.

The Hanoi Plan of Action of 1998 called upon ASEAN member countries to implement the ASEAN Work Programme to Operationalise the ASEAN Plan of Action on Drug Abuse Control by 2004. The leaders also called upon member countries to continue developing and implementing high-profile flagship programmes on drug abuse control, particularly those related to prevention education for youth, and treatment and rehabilitation.

To address the call of the leaders, the ASEAN Senior Officials on Drug Matters (ASOD) endorsed the remaining seven pending projects under the work programme and one new high-profile/flagship project called the Youth Empowerment Against Drug Abuse.

Several of the projects have also now been identified as high-profile/flagship. They are the Training on Financial Investigations, Enhancement of Community Based Drug Prevention Activities and Promoting Drug Abuse Prevention Activities among Out-of-School Youth.

Out of the eight projects, three have been submitted to the ASEAN Foundation for funding considerations, namely, Training of Trainers in Interpersonal Skills and Peer Support Counseling in Drug Education; Youth Empowerment Against Drug Abuse [high-profile/flagship]; and Promoting Drug Abuse Prevention Activities among Out-of-School Youth [high-profile/flagship].

All the three projects has a focus on youth, taking into consideration that preventing the abuse of drugs is better handled by the youth themselves. For example, one of the aims of the Training of Trainers in Interpersonal Skills and Peer Support project is to train core groups of school teachers/counselors in each ASEAN Member Country in the development of interpersonal skills among students. So far, Malaysia, which coordinates this project, has conducted training in Brunei and in Thailand, both of which was held in September and in November 1999 respectively. This project intends to produce a core group of 30 trainers in each ASEAN country with Interpersonal Skills in Drug Prevention Education, and also to develop a training manual – in the respective national language of the ASEAN member countries.

Young persons are also the main focus of the Youth Empowerment Against Drug and Substance Abuse project which aims to equip young people with the knowledge, decision-making skills and values to stay away from drugs. Apart from developing regional cooperation and unity to enhance youth capability and participation in the prevention of drug abuse through positive and worthwhile activities, this project is also on the look-out for real-life youth role models who can lead organized youth movements against drug abuse, to encourage the participation of identified drug abusers through community outreach strategies, and to provide adequate training for the enhancement of self-esteem and the development of interpersonal skills. The Promoting Drug Abuse Preventive Activities among Out-of-School Youth project meanwhile aims to make use of peer group discussions to enhance available information about youth attitudes and behavior as it pertains to drug abuse and related issues to assist ASOD and the countries in the development of more targeted prevention activities.

The subject of youth and drugs was also the highlight of the Regional Conference on Drug Abuse Among the Youth which was held in Hanoi in November 1998. The Conference adopted two documents: 1) Appeal to the Youth in the ASEAN Regional for A Drug-Free Life; and 2) Agenda for Action on Prevention and Control of Drug Abuse for the Youth in the ASEAN Region.

ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information (COCI)

The ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information is also involved in the fight against drug abuse, particularly in terms of projects and educational campaigns. The “ASEAN School Anti-Drug Poster and Comic Strips” which was held in Brunei in 1997 showcased an exhibition of comic strips drawn by children from ASEAN countries with the theme “ASEAN Free from Drugs”. It had the objective of providing ASEAN children as well as youngsters with proper insight and protection as early and as effectively as possible through some forms of media which have more appeal to this particular group. There has also been a working visit and workshop project involving ASEAN journalists and media personnel with a view to enable them to increase their knowledge, to get more experience and to improve their professional skills in editorial and news writing towards solving the drug problem in ASEAN. Furthermore, the “Workshop on ASEAN Community Awareness: The Drug Problem in the Region,” which was held in Bandung in October last year focused on supporting regional cooperation among ASEAN member countries to overcome the dangers of narcotics abuse through the empowerment of the ASEAN information network.

Some developments with regards to drug abuse in ASEAN countries.

 Today, several ASEAN countries remain important illicit markets for heroin and also serve as transit points for heroin destined for illicit markets in other parts of East and Southeast Asia, in North America and in Oceania. The method of injecting drugs meanwhile continues to contribute to increases in the prevalence of HIV infection in several other ASEAN countries.

But according to the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board, it is the abuse of and trafficking in amphetamine-type stimulants that is spreading quickly across the entire region of East and Southeast Asia. In the area of the Golden Triangle, facilities that were once used exclusively for the refining of heroin are increasingly being used for the manufacture of methamphetamine as well. Traffickers of such stimulants appear to be targeting vulnerable groups in major urban areas, especially the young. In Thailand, for example, amphetamine-type of stimulants has recently become the drug most widely used by students.

 The UN has called upon Governments, especially in the region, to consider the problem of the abuse of and trafficking in amphetamine-type stimulants in its entirety, including prevalence and the question of why an increasing number of youths in the region are turning to the abuse of methamphetamine. Governments are also urged to formulate and implement effective regional strategies to reduce the illicit demand for amphetamine-type stimulants based upon their examination of the problem and also to increase cooperation with each other in regulatory and law enforcement activities targeting the illicit manufacture of and trafficking in amphetamine-type stimulants.

 In view of the seriousness of the issue, there must be increased cooperation between countries in ASEAN to combat this new form of drug abuse. But Governments cannot do this monumental task alone. It needs the cooperation of all the parties involved in the fight against drug and substance abuse including that of non-governmental organizations and other community-based groups.

Role of Non-Governmental Organisations and Community-based drug prevention initiatives.

 One of the strategic thrust of the role ASEAN Plan of Action on Drug Abuse Control is to enhance the role of NGOs in drug abuse prevention and control. NGOs provide avenues for participation of concerned citizens in achieving a certain set objective. In the area of drug abuse prevention and control, NGOs complement Government efforts in enhancing community awareness on the pernicious effects of drugs and related prevention activities and assist in the aftercare and reintegration of rehabilitated drug dependants into the mainstream of society.

The fight against drug abuse also needs the help of the community. As drug abuse is a serious and complex community problem, which requires community response the government can no longer be the sole agency responsible for solving the problem. Thus prevention requires sharing resources and developing partnership with both NGOS and community-based organizations. It is also essential that all levels of society be educated on the dangers of drug abuse and the preventive role that each can play. Society needs to be motivated to help create a barrier against the debilitating influence of drug addiction. Hence the support and involvement of community organizations in drug abuse prevention is indisputable. They are the ones best suited to identify groups at risk, to help families of drug dependants and to prevent relapse. Every encouragement should be given to foster greater participation by community organizations. Activities emanating from the community should be encouraged and supported.

Hence, ASEAN is very well aware of the important role to be played by NGOs and community organizations. Of direct relevance to this workshop is a project, currently pending, which involves the enhancement of community-based drug prevention activities under the work programme to operationalise the ASEAN Plan of Action. In recent years, a number of Governments and NGOs have initiated a variety of community-based drug abuse prevention programmes in some of the ASEAN member countries. During the course of these activities, it is likely that the organizers of such activities have learned a great deal about what does work and does not work in changing attitudes and behavior related to drug abuse. All too frequently however, information concerning these activities and their comparative advantages and disadvantages is not available to other practitioners in the field of drug abuse preventive education in the ASEAN region. This project will help in consolidating some of the “lessons learned” and in overcoming some of the communication gaps. It will also provide ASOD, the ASEAN drug control coordinating bodies and NGOs with a set of detailed recommendations to consider in the establishment of community-based drug abuse preventive programmes and related training activities.

It is crucial that both Governments and NGOs need to work hand-in-hand in the fight against this menace and initiatives like greater information exchange and sharing of experiences between NGOs and community organizations and the authorities is indeed most welcome. With this in mind, this very workshop with the theme, ASEAN Solidarity on the Prevention of Drug and Substance Abuse is a step in the right direction.