South Koreans fighting drug addiction find few rehab options

SEOUL, April 13 (Reuters) – Every Saturday a group of young South Koreans gathers in Incheon just west of Seoul to discuss about their battles with drug abuse, trying to find sympathy and help in frequently emotional exchanges.

The cost-free midday therapy sessions are organised by Choi Jin-mook, who fought addiction for much more than 20 several years in advance of turning into a counsellor and advocating for a shift in South Korea’s drugs policy towards treatment and away from punishment.

Choi, 48, started having nonprescription cough medications at age 17 and was jailed for marijuana in his 20s. In and out of jail for 15 years, he turned to meth and much better medicine ahead of a different addict-turned-counsellor led him to an “awakening”.

“I imagined I would be a usual person when I bought out of prison, but there I realized additional about medication as a substitute of acquiring treatment,” Choi mentioned.

“I just could not crack away from the fetters.”

South Korea has only six drug rehabilitation centres, in accordance to Choi, which includes just two run by the food and drug protection ministry. In comparison, Japan – with 126 million folks to South Korea’s 52 million – has about 90 rehab centres.

The centre Choi heads is one particular of a few established up 10 years ago with funding from Japan. The centres run on a Japanese design and use only previous addicts to provide care and counselling.

Choi and other counsellors have been making an attempt to develop much more rehab centres and make them more obtainable, but Choi explained he has unsuccessful to get govt funding due to the fact of a standard absence of consciousness of the will need for far more services.


One particular of the most important difficulties is that South Korea’s corrections method focuses mostly on punitive detention and lacks rehabilitation aid, Choi stated.

In recent months, the arrests of chaebol heirs and famous people these as award-successful actor Yoo Ah-in on illegal medication charges have prompted authorities to crack down on narcotics and bolster customs enforcement.

Drug crimes are commonly punishable by at minimum 6 months in jail or up to 14 yrs for repeat offenders and sellers. Some drug crimes are also punishable by loss of life while South Korea has not carried out any executions considering the fact that 1997.

Even though most initially- and next-time offenders normally get suspended sentences and 30 to 40 hrs of mandatory drug education, Choi mentioned this does small to get them off drugs.

“The golden time for addiction treatment method is when you get caught for the initially time, but imagining that addicts would quit just after attending people lessons for a number of several hours is hoping for a wonder,” he stated.

“The program requirements appropriate therapy and rehabilitation to assistance addicts get started a new everyday living when they go back again to culture.”

The governing administration established exclusive intra-company squads last 7 days to clamp down on drugmakers and distributors, and Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon unveiled ideas very last 12 months to develop state rehab services, vowing to combat prescription drugs “as if we are at war”.

The justice ministry did not respond to requests for details on any plans for a lot more point out rehab centres. And the food and drug safety ministry explained it would insert only a single this year owing to spending budget constraints, devoid of elaborating.

DRUG-Totally free NO More

Medicines have become more cost-effective and much more accessible because of social media and an raise in abroad journey, Choi stated.

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

The number of people convicted of drug crimes shot up to a lot more than 16,000 in 2021, from close to 12,000 in 2015, according to the Supreme Prosecutors’ Business. Virtually 60{2c3a8711102f73ee058d83c6a8025dc7f37722aad075054eaafcf582b93871a0} of those convicted of drug crimes in 2021 have been 39 or more youthful, when the range of teen offenders jumped 44{2c3a8711102f73ee058d83c6a8025dc7f37722aad075054eaafcf582b93871a0} in 2021 from 2020.

The volume of confiscated illicit prescription drugs much more than tripled to a history 1.3 tonnes (2,870 lb) in 2021, because of partly to multinational investigations into smuggling rings, knowledge from the prosecutors’ workplace also confirmed.

Meth, cocaine and cannabis designed up close to 85{2c3a8711102f73ee058d83c6a8025dc7f37722aad075054eaafcf582b93871a0} of the seizures. Authorities are as very well looking at extra artificial cannabinoids and opioids like fentanyl, which is up to 100 instances extra impressive than morphine.

“A increased quantity and a better assortment of medications are getting smuggled in quite a few distinctive forms,” mentioned Lee Kyoung-ran, a customs officer at South Korea’s greatest airport in Incheon.

President Yoon Suk Yeol, who has lamented that the state is no more time “drug-totally free”, very last 7 days requested tougher steps to root out traffickers and confiscate drug income.

In the meantime, addicts seeking to quit are remaining on the lookout for support.

Determined to get off meth, Lee Dong-jae, 23, managed to obtain Choi past 12 months. Choi offered absolutely free counselling and housing at his rehab centre and also gave Lee a work at his wife’s restaurant.

“I have hardly ever experienced a occupation or day-to-day life like this since taking medications, but now sense I am little by little recovering the energetic and constructive facet of me,” Lee stated.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Minwoo Park More reporting by Daewoung Kim and Dogyun Kim Editing by Tom Hogue

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