The recent conviction of former baseball player Kazuhiro Kiyohara for purchasing, possessing and using stimulant drugs underlines the need for the nation to build a strong system to rehabilitate people who have developed dependency on narcotics and psychoactive drugs. The Tokyo District Court sentenced Kiyohara to 2½ years in prison, suspended for four years.

It is generally considered to be difficult for drug abusers to escape addiction. The use of stimulant drugs — such as amphetamine and methamphetamine — especially develops a strong dependency, making it highly difficult for them to kick the habit. Most people who have been investigated or arrested for using stimulant drugs are recidivists. According to the National Police Agency, the police last year investigated or arrested some 13,000 people for possession or use of narcotics or psychoactive drugs. Of them, cases involving stimulant drugs were the largest in number, accounting for more than 80 percent. Some 11,000 people were investigated or arrested for possessing or using stimulant drugs, with recidivists amounting to 64.8 percent of them on average.

The rate of recidivism increases as the age of stimulant drug abusers goes up — 36.0 percent among users in their 20s and 57.9 percent among users in their 30s. The rate is the highest at 72.2 percent among users in their 40s, the category Kiyohara falls into. Among people in their 30s, the number of people investigated or arrested in connection with violation of the stimulant drugs control law stands at 21 per 100,000 people or the highest, followed by the 20.5 among people in their 40s. The police think that middle-aged people, who are relatively well off, are most likely to be tempted to purchase stimulant drugs, whose market price is said to be about ¥70,000 per gram, as means of dealing with difficulties they face at work or in their personal relationships. Kiyohara told the court that he started using stimulant drugs to get rid of the anxiety that he began feeling after he retired from baseball.

But once people start using stimulant drugs, they begin to acquire resistance to them and users in many cases increase the frequency and amount of usage. Progress in dependency can lead to changes in personality and health damage, and even trigger problem behaviors caused by hallucinations.

On June 1, a new criminal trial-related provision was introduced that could help rehabilitate convicted drug users. Using this provision, the courts and government should make serious efforts to construct a system that will help drug abusers break their dependency, enabling them to live healthy lives once again and make positive contributions to society.

Traditionally, convicted criminals who receive prison sentences are either imprisoned or have their sentences fully suspended. But under the new provision, first-time convicts and drug offenders who are given prison terms of three years or less can have part of their sentence suspended. For example, a court can sentence someone to three years’ imprisonment with the provision that six months of the imprisonment will be suspended for two years. The convict leaves prison after serving 30 months and if he doesn’t reoffend during the following two years, his sentence is completed.

It has been said that merely punishing drug abusers cannot lead to the eradication of drug use. If this provision is applied to drug users, the suspension period will be used to rehabilitate them. During this period, they will not only be under the supervision and guidance of probation officers but also join a program to end their dependency on drugs at facilities such as special medical institutions and mutual self-help groups run by private organizations. They will also undergo training to restart their normal lives in society. If used correctly, the new provision should help prevent recidivism among drug users.

According to criminal justice statistics, 3,686 people were given suspended sentences in 2014 for violating the stimulant drugs control law. Of them, slightly more than 10 percent or 439 were given probation. Court judges should consider applying the new provision to more drug offenders to help them break their addictions and avoid recidivism.

The central government and other parties concerned should increase the number and quality of medical institutions and rehabilitation facilities for drug addicts, work out a division of labor between public and private organizations and develop a system that will support both drug abusers and their families even after probation is over. They also should promote activities to help deepen the public’s understanding of drug-dependency problems.

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