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Opinion

Society

Intolerable amphetamines
-Identifying abusers and informing young people-

Masahiro Tamura
Professor, Waseda Institute of the Policy of Social Safety (WIPSS)

Amphetamines are drugs that stimulate the central nervous systems of users and make them feel high, relieve their fatigue, heighten their senses, and give them a feeling of euphoria. These effects subside after a few hours, however, and are replaced by the opposite feelings of severe fatigue, lethargy, and depression. As a result, for many people, once they have tried amphetamines and experienced the high, they want to feel it again and begin to use the drugs repeatedly.

People who want amphetamines

In many cases, people initially treat the use of amphetamines lightly and try them for benign reasons such as wanting to feel good or alleviate fatigue, having heard that they can lose weight, or just wanting to experience how it feels to take amphetamines, but the effects are profound. Some of the various adverse effects include users becoming: restless and irritable when they are not high, disheveled and sloppy, violent in their homes, unable to work, financially troubled as a result of their need to buy amphetamines, and estranged from people around them. Prolonged abuse leads to psychological symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions which in turn lead to behavior that endangers others in some cases. Many users experience such symptoms or flashbacks for long periods even after quitting.

Amphetamines are typically taken by injection, which presents a psychological barrier to some users, but it is becoming more and more common these days to smoke them as well. Until recently, MDMA ("ecstasy," synthetic drugs in pill form) and marijuana were considered part of the culture for young people at clubs, rave parties, and live houses, but as amphetamines are smoked now, they are spreading among the younger generation.

The situation in Japan

It is unknown exactly how many people are abusing amphetamines. For this reason, when we consider the number of people identified as abusers by the police, we find that in the first half of the fifties bootleg amphetamines were popular (more than 55,000 users in 1954), but through prevention policies in the private and public sectors, they were almost entirely eradicated. From the seventies, use of contraband amphetamines gradually increased until the second peak in 1984 (24,000 users). After that, there was a fairly mild third peak at the end of the nineties and a gradual decline to the current number of users, which is about half the number of users as there were at the second peak.

In situations like this, with at least hundreds of thousands of people abusing amphetamines, not only the users but also those around them suffer. This is more than just an unpleasant condition, it is absolutely alarming. Amphetamines have become a major focus of crime prevention measures, since they have become extremely lucrative for crime syndicates, and since amphetamine cases are the second most frequent type of case among males incarcerated as well as the number one type of case among females incarcerated.

At the same time, compared with many countries that are experiencing explosive increases in the number of drug users and a spread of illegal narcotics reaching epidemic proportions, one might conclude that the increase of drug abuse is effectively being curtailed in Japan. Unlike some who held the view which spread since the seventies that "drug use should be left to individual judgment," the social norm that "the use of illegal drugs is intolerable," which has come to be maintained in the community, may be the most pivotal point in preventing epidemic increase in drug use.

The necessary measures

Since all amphetamines are smuggled in from other countries, we must identify the smuggling routes and cut off the flow of drugs at the source. The jump in amphetamine prices that occurred after identifying large scale operations, including the routes through North Korea and China, vividly reflects how effective these measures are.

But demand side measures are most important. What we have identified through cases involving street-level drug abusers is the great significance of offering these drug abusers the chance to reform while maintaining the social norms of the community. Along with these findings, by developing on-campus educational activities and raising awareness among school children, another promising sign became evident. Neverthelss, in a 2006 survey by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, 8.8% of male high school seniors had the positive impression of drugs: "I believe they can make me feel good," compared to 25.8% in 1997, which reflects not only a significant decrease in this positive impression, but also that continued educational efforts are warranted. In the same survey, 7.4% of male high school seniors also responded that: "whether or not to use drugs is an individual freedom." But drugs are not something we can easily control through our own will power. When you see that amphetamines cause users and their families to suffer and drive users to commit a range of crimes in order to obtain them, you should understand that the word "freedom" does not apply.

Lastly, I want to stress the importance of support for those who have tried drugs in order to help them to recover. Even when individuals firmly resolve to quit using drugs it is no easy task. Guidance programs to help users through withdrawal while they are incarcerated and during probation have been progressing in recent years, in cooperation with private organizations whose members themselves have experienced addiction. If participants do not make genuine efforts, there is no hope for supporting a real recovery. Considering the sheer number of people who abuse amphetamines, the demand for social resources is vast, and the number of people willing to participate in these recovery programs is a crucial factor.

In order to maintain a safe and sound society, we must ensure that we ourselves and those around us avoid all criminal activities, including drugs. We must also vigorously engage in activities to ensure safety locally, including helping those who have gone down the wrong path to get back on the path to recovery. These are the concerted efforts that we must make, and the first steps that we must take, in order to achieve our goals, which cannot be achieved by passing the buck to anyone else.

Masahiro Tamura
Professor, Waseda Institute of the Policy of Social Safety (WIPSS)

Professor Tamura graduated with an undergraduate degree from the department of Law at Kyoto University in 1977 and joined the National Police Agency in the same year. After serving in successive posts-including Driver's License Section Chief at the National Police Agency, Counselor in the Cabinet Information Research Office, Head of the National Police Academy Police Policy Research Center, and Chief of the Fukuoka Prefecture Police Headquarters-Professor Tamura began his current work in March of this year.

Primary Works
An Interpretation of Police Administrative Law, Fourth Edition (Tokyo Horei Publishing Co., Ltd.); Fundamental Thinking on Police Administrative Law Today, An Explanation of Police Officer Authority in the Field, Volume Two, (Two Volumes); (Tachibana Shobo Co., Ltd.); Techniques for Policing Crime, Morikazu Taguchi, et al (eds.); A Multifaceted Investigation of Crime (pp. 315-344)