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Developing a Global Perspective on Treatment

January 14, 2010
by Daniel Guarnera
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There are few areas of our lives that aren't affected by globalization. Free trade zones, human rights law, climate change summits, and the ability to download information from the other side of the world in seconds are just a few reminders of how small the world has become.

One area of law and politics that has seemingly lagged behind in this respect is health care. With few exceptions (like the international response to the swine flu outbreak), health care policy is predominantly a nation-by-nation affair. Even during the recent health reform debate, only minimal attention was paid to the experiences and models of other countries.

Yet health care issues are one of the most pressing concerns of every country, and this is true of addiction as much as anything else. Here are two recent articles I came across that give a comparative perspective on how other countries are addressing addiction treatment:

Chinese Compulsory Drug Detention Centers

In June 2008, China passed the Anti-Drug Law. Although it was intended to promote "human-centered treatment" (the practice of sending addicts to Re-education Through Labor centers ended, for example), a recent Human Rights Watch study finds that the law has created new problems. People sentenced under the Anti-Drug Law receive a mandatory minimum two-year sentence in a compulsory drug detention treatment center. But before those of you who struggle to get 28 days approved by insurance plans consider relocating to China, be warned: HRW finds that many of these centers do not provide basic health care, are operated by prison guards, and are described by some former patients/inmates as nothing more than factories (where they are unpaid and work in sweatshop-like conditions).

In other areas, however, China has taken a less punitive, more public-health oriented approach: over 550 methadone clinics have opened since 2004, for example, and China has recently pioneered some needle exchange programs.



It is also interesting to note that illegal drug use is far less pervasive in China than in the U.S., although this is in part due to the relative lack of development in China. As China's standard of living continues to rise, it will be interesting to see whether drug use rises with it, as well as how the Chinese health care system adapts in response.


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Daniel Guarnera

Daniel Guarnera is the Director of Government Relations for NAADAC, The Association for...