Asia: China Sets Up Drug User Data Bank

And we thought meth cook registries went too far. China's National Narcotics Control Commission announced Wednesday that it has established a data bank to monitor drug users. More than 785,000 people have been listed in the data bank since it began last August under the Ministry of Public Security.
Chinese anti-drug poster
The drug user data bank is supposed to determine the number of China's drug takers, verify their identities, and monitor their current situation, an official with the narcotics control commission said. But it is also being used as a law enforcement tool, with authorities citing it as helpful in recent drug cases.

According to official numbers, which are undoubtedly low, by 2005, China had 1.16 million drug users, a 35% increase since 2000. But that number shrank to 720,000 by August of last year because of "compulsory rehabilitation measures and strict checks on chemicals and narcotics," the ministry said.

Under China's forced treatment program, drug users can be held for up to six months, but in February, Beijing police were considering extending that period to a year. This appears to be part of an effort to clean up the city before the 2008 Olympics. "We do not rule out the possibility of compelling all drug abusers in the capital to give up their addictions before the Olympics," said Fu Zhenghua, deputy director of the Beijing Public Security Bureau.

Well, heck, with that handy data bank, police should have no problem finding people to drag off to the drug re-education camps.

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So, no cigarettes or coffee

So, no cigarettes or coffee during the olympics?


I've always felt that the only way a prohibition policy could ever work would be under an authoritarian government that dispenses with civil liberties and privacy rights in its quest to stop drug use. People complain about the United States in these terms, but really it could be much worse (cue: China).

So, I'm interested to see how this plays out. If China fails in this, it basically says what we already know and then some: that a policy of Prohibition has zero chance of success in controlling drug use, even if its laws are emphatically enforced without any respect for individual liberty.

Databases for democracies too!

In case anyone was thinking that authoritarian governments and one-party states have the monopoly on drug user databases then think again!
Victoria, Australia's second most populous State, has a head start on China by more than two decades and counting! The 'Poisons and Controlled Sustances Act' provides for the mandatory reporting (similar to that required of teachers suspicious of student domestic abuse or neglect) by medical practitioners and nurses of patients considered to be 'drug dependent persons'. Victoria is the last state in Australia to have maintained such a database with others having removed similar instruments or otherwise reformed relevant legislation.
Whilst the stated aim of such reporting is to facilitate the "co-ordination of the patient’s drug treatment and safe prescribing of drugs", the data can be made available to medical practitioners, pharmacists and as "otherwise required by law", which potentially covers a wide statutory oversight including law enforcement of drug offences. In addition, despite the lack of complaint provisions within the legislation or even to allow for the removal of entries related to persons no longer requiring the prescription of such substances or no longer drug dependent, both anecdotal and state Ombudsman patient reports of adverse medical treatment following practitioner access to the database continue to arise.
Indeed this is the subject of the minor thesis I am completing for the masters course and as such it will hardly prove inspirational to compare Victoria and China in this regard!

Masters Student - Policy and Human Services
RMIT School of Social Science and Planning
Melbourne Victoria Australia

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