People who use drugs are criminalised and punished severely in Thailand, with harsher impacts experienced by people from already marginalised groups, notably LGBTQI people. In May 2021, for example, police conducted a raid on a party involving gay men and drug use in a sexual setting (often referred to as ‘chemsex’) and arrested 62 people in Bangkok.
Although there have been reforms in recent years to reduce the severity of penalties, and improve the health response to drug use and dependence, the use of drugs and possession of drugs for personal use remains criminalised alongside other punitive measures such as random urine testing by law enforcement and compulsory drug rehabilitation in detention for 3 – 6 months.
The risk of arrest and incarceration or other punishment makes people unable or unwilling to seek assistance and essential social and health, including HIV prevention, treatment and care services when they need it.
The risk of harassment and abuse from law enforcement officers pose another significant barrier. As a result, the human rights of people who use drugs, especially for people from groups that can be more vulnerable and marginalized such as LGBTQI people, can be significantly worse than the general population.
APCOM and IDPC organised a consultation on 27 and 28 April 2022 with civil society and communities of LGBTQI people who use drugs on their experiences, concerns and needs, particularly during Covid-19, and to inform the development of a follow up seminar with stakeholders.
Some recommendations for social welfare:
- Education promotion and knowledge and understanding about Covid-19
- Health promotion particularly within the local the Public Health Centers
- Promoting income generation and employment during Covid-19
- General social services for financial support
- Recreation services
Summary of issues LGBTQI who use drugs faces, law enforcement and rights protection issues:
- Trans women are stereotyped as using drugs and compulsory urine testing for substance abuse is often targeted at these population
- Urine tests are normally done in the form that infringes on human rights such as pop-up checkpoints that are inappropriate.
- Drug users are not informed of their rights
- Compulsory treatment process
- Use of bad language (when talking to LGBTQI people who use drugs), physical abuse
- No one wants to take legal action because it costs a lot of time
- Blood donation is not allowed
In creating safe spaces for dialogue that is inclusive of a diverse range of stakeholders, momentum will be accelerated for consideration amongst policymakers and policy influencers of specific reforms of policies and practices to reduce the harmful impacts of law enforcement measures towards people who use drugs, especially LGBTQI people.
The meeting concluded with some recommendations for public communication and campaign to create societal understanding to reduce stigma around sex and drug use, creating better understanding about sexual and gender diversity, and demonstrating issues and problems that drug users face.