Jokowi must rethink war on drugs: experts

Indonesia’s president should drop the death penalty and adopt strategies that are proven to reduce drug harm, say experts in the leading health journal, The Lancet.

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Joko Widodo has committed to sending more than 60 death row drug offenders to the firing squad, demonstrated last month with the executions of eight men, including Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan.

In an open letter to Mr Joko in The Lancet, a group of prominent Indonesian academics and experts call on Indonesia to urgently discontinue strategies that have proven ineffective, such as involuntary rehabilitation and the death penalty.

One of the experts, Indonesia’s veteran drug and HIV researcher Professor Dr Irwanto, welcomed the government’s increased commitment to addressing drug-related harm.

But he said proven strategies were being neglected in favour of a punitive approach that risked frightening drug users away from the treatments they needed.

“The current drug war approach has been a proven failure around the globe, even causing more harm than good,” Dr Irwanto, of the HIV and AIDS Research Centre at Atma Jaya University, said in a statement.

“Each human life matters.

“Productive human lives may be compromised by misguided policies.”

The 11 signatories to the letter also questioned the data Indonesia relies on to demonstrate the “drug emergency”, which it says necessitates the death penalty.

Mr Joko frequently cites the National Narcotics Board (BNN) figure of 40-50 drug deaths a day when explaining why extreme measures are needed.

The experts say that research is unorthodox and unreliable, and they are calling for accurate data collection urgently.

Meanwhile, Dr Irwanto said there is a wealth of information supporting harm reduction and health-focused programs deserving of expansion: needle exchanges, opioid substitution therapy and voluntary treatment.

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