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Ethical Challenges to Punitive Law on Drug Users in China
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Ethical Challenges to Punitive Law on Drug Users in China

Punitive Law on Drug Use in Mainland China

In the early 1980s, along with the development of economic reform and opening to the outside world, international drug cartels launched large drugs markets into Hong Kong, Europe and America, through the border regions of Yunnan province, China and Myanmar. Some drugs were sold along the way and within the wider region, thus unlocking the drug consumption market in mainland China. In about 10 years, China changed from a transit country for drug trafficking into a huge drug consumption market. According to the Report on Drug Control in China (NCB 2013), the number of drugs seized rises dramatically year by year (see Table 1). Especially high is the amount of methamphetamine

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Table 1.

The quantity of seized drugs per year in China (Ton)

[End Page 158]

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Figure 1.

Number of registered drug users in China from 1990 to 2012 (Million) Data source: Report on Drug Control in Mainland China (NCB 2013).

which by 2012 was 6 times more than it was in 2005, with the total seized amount set at 45.1 tons.

Alongside the rapid development of urbanisation and modernisation, the number of drug users and the diversity of drugs used kept increasing. In addition to heroin, new drugs such as methamphetamine, MDMA, ketamine, etc. came into use. According to official statistics, by the end of 2012, the number of registered drug users in China was almost 2.1 million, with opioid drug users accounting for 60.6 per cent while synthetic drug users accounted for 38 per cent (NCB 2013; see Figure 1). In January 2014, it was reported that the number of registered drug users reached 2.4 million. But, it was estimated that the actual number was five times that, or more than 10 million, with the number of teenage drug abusers accounting for over 70 per cent of the total (Hu 2014). As we know, the sharing of needles may cause the spread of many contagious diseases, such as HIV and HCV. So clearly, this data indicates that drug use has become a serious public health and social problem in China, which not only causes great harm to addicts’ physical and mental health but also to society.

Facing this severe situation, the government and legislature of China decided to adopt a punitive approach to dealing with this issue. In 1990, the Anti-Drug Decisions (NPC 1990) was promulgated by the National People’s Congress,1 which set the rules such as the following:

Article 8:

Whoever intakes or injects narcotic drugs shall be punished by the public security department with detention of no more than 15 days, and may simply or concurrently be punished with a fine of no more than CNY2 2,000, and the narcotic drugs and the instruments used for drug intake or injection shall concurrently be confiscated. [End Page 159]

Whoever is addicted to drug intake or injection shall, in addition to being punished as provided in the preceding provision, be forced to quit the addiction and be subjected to treatment and education.

Persons who intake or inject narcotic drugs again after being forced to quit shall be subjected to reeducation-through-labor and shall be forced to quit during the period.

18 years later, the Anti-Drug Law of the People’s Republic of China (NPC 2004) was formally promulgated. In this law, compulsory testing, compulsory registration and compulsory detoxification are included, as follows:

Article 32:

Public security department may conduct the necessary test on persons suspected of using narcotic drugs, and the persons subjected to such test shall cooperate; a person who refuses to undergo the test [will] be subjected to compulsory testing upon approval by the responsible person of public security department affiliated with the people’s government at or above the county level or of the local office dispatched by the public security department. (compulsory testing).3

Drug users shall register at public security department. (compulsory registration).4

Article 38:

In one of the following cases a narcotic drug addict shall...