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The use of amphetamines, narcotics, so-called dangerous herbs and other drugs has continued to increase in Japan. While the problems plaguing Japan have yet to reach the disastrous level of other countries, the rampant use of dangerous drugs has reached serious levels.

According to statistics compiled by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in February, 0.4 percent of the Japanese population between 15 and 64 years old have tried stimulants at least once. In the United States, 5.1 percent of the population over age 12 has tried methamphetamines at least once.

For Japan, that percentage translates into 400,000 users of harmful substances, according to a survey by the health ministry. In Japan, celebrities such as Ryo Aska, who was arrested and convicted on drug charges, may serve as the public face of drug addiction, but for the average person, drugs have become ever easier to obtain at ever-lower prices.

Police have been focusing on the many different so-called dangerous drugs that are not yet classified as illegal.

The most seriously addicting drugs are typically methamphetamines and narcotics. Though the illegality of the drugs is not in question, putting addicts into jail on criminal charges will do little to stem the rising tide of drug use. What is essential is for the health ministry to increase treatment programs and campaigns raising awareness of their dangers.

Because almost all of the most serious drugs have serious symptoms, including aural and visual hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, addiction and obsession, those under the influence of drugs or addicted to them need to be able to easily enter specially designed programs at public health centers. Like alcohol, though, drug addicts also need specific treatment beyond what is usually provided at most hospitals and public health centers.

Presently there are simply not enough treatment facilities and intervention programs. Nationwide, only 25 hospitals and 12 public health centers are set up for the explicit purpose of treating drug addicts.

In 24 prefectures, there are no facilities at all. So far, most of the treatment for drug addiction is handled by private facilities such as the Drug Addiction Rehabilitation Center and Narcotics Anonymous.

The central government needs to work together with these facilities and help fund their efforts by increasing the health ministry’s budget.

The health ministry has promised to set up 69 treatment centers during the next fiscal year. However, that is still far behind private treatment efforts, and even farther behind the reality of increasing drug addiction in Japan.

Japan has prided itself on being a country that has escaped the global scourge of drug addiction, but that belief is an out-of-date myth. Now the government needs to take greater action to confront the reality of drugs in Japan and needs to provide addicts with the treatment they need.

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