South Koreans fighting drug addiction find few rehab options

South Koreans fighting drug addiction find few rehab options

SEOUL, April 13 (Reuters) – Each individual Saturday a group of young South Koreans gathers in Incheon just west of Seoul to converse about their battles with drug abuse, seeking sympathy and help in usually emotional exchanges.

The free midday treatment classes are organised by Choi Jin-mook, who fought addiction for additional than 20 a long time just before turning into a counsellor and advocating for a shift in South Korea’s medicine policy towards treatment method and away from punishment.

Choi, 48, began getting nonprescription cough medications at age 17 and was jailed for cannabis in his 20s. In and out of prison for 15 many years, he turned to meth and stronger medicine in advance of another addict-turned-counsellor led him to an “awakening”.

“I thought I would be a ordinary individual when I bought out of prison, but there I discovered a lot more about prescription drugs as a substitute of acquiring treatment method,” Choi explained.

“I just couldn’t break away from the fetters.”

South Korea has only six drug rehabilitation centres, in accordance to Choi, such as just two operate by the food and drug basic safety ministry. In comparison, Japan – with 126 million people to South Korea’s 52 million – has about 90 rehab centres.

The centre Choi heads is one of 3 set up 10 several years ago with funding from Japan. The centres operate on a Japanese model and use only previous addicts to present treatment and counselling.

Choi and other counsellors have been making an attempt to develop a lot more rehab centres and make them a lot more accessible, but Choi reported he has unsuccessful to get government funding because of a common lack of consciousness of the require for a lot more amenities.


One of the most important troubles is that South Korea’s corrections process focuses mostly on punitive detention and lacks rehabilitation support, Choi mentioned.

In latest months, the arrests of chaebol heirs and celebrities these kinds of as award-profitable actor Yoo Ah-in on illegal prescription drugs expenses have prompted authorities to crack down on narcotics and bolster customs enforcement.

Drug crimes are typically punishable by at least six months in jail or up to 14 yrs for repeat offenders and dealers. Some drug crimes are also punishable by demise although South Korea has not carried out any executions because 1997.

Although most 1st- and next-time offenders ordinarily get suspended sentences and 30 to 40 several hours of necessary drug training, Choi explained this does very little to get them off medicines.

“The golden time for habit treatment method is when you get caught for the to start with time, but imagining that addicts would give up just after attending all those lessons for quite a few hrs is hoping for a wonder,” he stated.

“The system wants proper procedure and rehabilitation to assist addicts get started a new life when they go back again to modern society.”

The governing administration made specific intra-agency squads past 7 days to clamp down on drugmakers and distributors, and Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon unveiled options previous yr to extend condition rehab amenities, vowing to fight drugs “as if we are at war”.

The justice ministry did not react to requests for information and facts on any ideas for far more point out rehab centres. And the food items and drug basic safety ministry explained it would add only 1 this 12 months because of to budget constraints, with out elaborating.

On Thursday, the Seoul metropolis authorities declared an growth of assist for addicts, like building a rehab centre at a metropolis healthcare facility and doing work with Choi’s organisation to open at the very least two extra residential facilities.

DRUG-Free of charge NO Much more

Drugs have turn out to be less expensive and more accessible for the reason that of social media and an increase in overseas travel, Choi reported.

“In Seoul, you can get specifically what you want inside 30 minutes through social media.”

The variety of men and women convicted of drug crimes shot up to more than 16,000 in 2021, from about 12,000 in 2015, in accordance to the Supreme Prosecutors’ Workplace. Pretty much 60{35112b74ca1a6bc4decb6697edde3f9edcc1b44915f2ccb9995df8df6b4364bc} of people convicted of drug crimes in 2021 had been 39 or younger, whilst the selection of teen offenders jumped 44{35112b74ca1a6bc4decb6697edde3f9edcc1b44915f2ccb9995df8df6b4364bc} in 2021 from 2020.

The volume of confiscated illicit drugs extra than tripled to a document 1.3 tonnes (2,870 lb) in 2021, due partly to multinational investigations into smuggling rings, information from the prosecutors’ office also showed.

Meth, cocaine and cannabis built up close to 85{35112b74ca1a6bc4decb6697edde3f9edcc1b44915f2ccb9995df8df6b4364bc} of the seizures. Authorities are as very well looking at additional artificial cannabinoids and opioids like fentanyl, which is up to 100 occasions far more effective than morphine.

“A better quantity and a higher range of medicine are currently being smuggled in numerous diverse kinds,” stated Lee Kyoung-ran, a customs officer at South Korea’s premier airport in Incheon.

President Yoon Suk Yeol, who has lamented that the country is no for a longer period “drug-absolutely free”, past week ordered more durable actions to root out traffickers and confiscate drug earnings.

In the meantime, addicts attempting to stop are left wanting for aid.

Determined to get off meth, Lee Dong-jae, 23, managed to locate Choi very last yr. Choi available no cost counselling and housing at his rehab centre and also gave Lee a occupation at his wife’s cafe.

“I have hardly ever experienced a task or daily daily life like this considering that taking medicines, but now really feel I’m slowly recovering the energetic and optimistic aspect of me,” Lee mentioned.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Minwoo Park Additional reporting by Daewoung Kim and Dogyun Kim Modifying by Tom Hogue

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