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PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) has urged for a halt to the Drug Dependants (Treatment and Rehabilitation) (Amendment) Bill 2024, which has been tabled for first reading in the Dewan Rakyat.

Asking for a halt until proper engagements are held with stakeholders, its president Dr Azizan Abdul Aziz said the Home Ministry had not consulted the group with regards to the bill.

She also expressed deep concern over the bill, which she claimed “appears to lack expert guidance and input”.

Pointing to Clause 6(2) of the bill, Dr Azizan said MMA wished to highlight that substance dependance is a medical and health condition.

“Rehabilitation officers are not doctors and are therefore not qualified to provide expert recommendations on the management of substance dependants,” she said in a statement on Thursday (July 4).

Among others, Clause 6(2) states that where a drug or substance dependant is produced or appears before a Magistrate, the Magistrate shall, on the recommendation of a Rehabilitation Officer and after giving such person an opportunity to make representations, order such person to undergo treatment and rehabilitation both at a specified Rehabilitation Centre specified for two years and subsequently in a community under the supervision of a Rehabilitation Officer at a specified place for a period of two years.

The Magistrate, stressed Dr Azizan, must obtain recommendations from a doctor (one with specialised training) before determining the period for treatment and rehabilitation.

“The Act’s definition of ‘dependance’ is also troubling. The Act loosely defines dependence as “menjejaskan kawalan kendiri” (affecting self control) which is incorrect.

“The accepted definition of substance dependance should come from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), where there are 11 criteria.

“Drug use disorder under the DSM is defined as a problematic pattern of drug use leading to distress or functional impairment.

“Criteria include unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control use, spending excessive time acquiring or using drugs, craving, neglecting responsibilities, and continued use despite social or personal consequences. Tolerance and withdrawal symptoms may develop,” she said, adding that severity is based on the number of met criteria, such as mild, moderate or severe.

The causes of substance dependance, she added, are rooted in biological, pyschological and social factors, requiring extensive assessment by taking a detailed and targeted history, and clinical examination before doing blood or urine tests.

“Most doctors have to undergo specialised training for this. The question we need to ask is – are officers and volunteers from the Anti-Drugs Agency trained in this area?” she asked.

Substance dependance, added Dr Azizan, must be treated by psychiatrists or psychologists (with specialised training in managing addictions).

“Careful consideration and refinement by a special committee is needed before the Bill is passed,” she said.