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Community-Based Drug Abuse Control, Social Control, and the 'War on Drugs' in Northern Laos

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Cohen, Paul T.
Conference: Politics of the Commons: Articulating Development and Strengthening Local Practices
Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Conf. Date: July 11-14, 2003
Date: 2003
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/1659
Sector: Social Organization
Region: East Asia
Subject(s): IASC
community participation
village organization
social capital
Abstract: "In this paper I have argued that the benefits derived from the development of social capital comprise largely the common pool of resources provided by the aid agencies. These vital resources have become the focus of the politics of the commons that govern the strategic interaction between highland communities, on the one hand, and foreign agencies and local government officials, on the other. "The control of these resources by the agencies, given the contractual nature of alternative development, serves as a powerful force of compliance to the requirements of opium demand reduction. An additional, critical factor is the development of effective systems of community social control, which is closely connected to village headmen and model villages with low rates of relapse for detoxified addicts. The concern of village headmen with their reputation (or face), vis a vis fellow headmen and local agency and government officials, is enhanced by new forms of social capital derived from shared experience and networking. The rigorous system of social control that has emerged in Phase 2 villages in Long district also reflects a process whereby headmen have become crucial intermediaries and surrogates for the policing of communities; this has allowed both foreign agencies and local government to so far adopt relatively non-coercive, hands-off policies. However, this could soon change as the 2005 deadline draws nearer and pressures grow to meet opium supply and demand reduction targets. "I have emphasised the relationship between the development of social capital, effective community social sanctions against relapse and the economic benefits for rehabilitated addicts. I have also identified the attendant social costs in terms of the creation of an addict identity and increasing stigmatisation and marginalisation of relapsed addicts. This is inconsistent with the humane principles of community-based drug control and also with UNDCP programme pronouncements that addiction is a chronic relapsing order and that neither addiction nor relapse should be subject to punishment (UNDCP 2002:25,26). Furthermore, there is a realistic prospect that relapsed opium addicts will turn to the furtive use of more easily concealed and more harmful illicit drugs. Indeed there are already reports of the spread of methamphetamine (ya ba) use in the highland communities of both districts."

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