China’s social workers play vital role in drug fight

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China’s National Narcotic Control Committee released the “China Drug Situation Report 2021” on June 23, three days before the 35th International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

The report reveals that by the end of 2021, there were about 1.49 million drug users nationwide — a 17.5 percent year-on-year decrease, and roughly 3.4 million people had managed at least three years of abstinence — a 13.4 percent year-on-year increase. According to the report, 121,000 new drug users had been identified since the previous count, down by 21.7 percent year on year. The number of existing drug users and the number of newly-identified users has been on the decline for five consecutive years, and drug abuse management continued to show effectiveness.

Social workers across the country tasked with tackling the problem have played an important role in the comprehensive management of drug problems, including by delivering drug prevention education. They have also taken responsibility for the physical and mental health of drug abusers, including their rehabilitation, cognitive adjustment, and social assistance. Many also work to help users maintain family relationships and find work.

The institutionalization of anti-drug work

Since the implementation of the Drug Control Law of the People’s Republic of China on June 1, 2008, and the Drug Rehabilitation Regulations in June 2011, China has moved from compulsory drug rehabilitation and reeducation through labor to a more innovative drug rehabilitation model that integrates voluntary rehabilitation, community rehabilitation, and compulsory isolation rehabilitation.

In July 2014, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council issued the “Opinions on Strengthening Anti-Drug Work”, which proposed encouraging the whole of society to participate in fighting drug abuse and the gradual establishment of a team of professionals and volunteers for social work with drug users, providing a solid policy basis for social workers to intervene in this field.

In August 2015, the Central Publicity Department, Office of Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission, Ministry of Public Security and other departments jointly issued the “National Youth Drug Prevention Education Plan (2016-2018)”, proposing to provide employment assistance, counselling and drug prevention education services by relying on social work teams specializing in youth affairs and other related social work teams and organizations.

In December 2015, 11 departments including the National Narcotic Control Committee (NNCC) jointly issued the “National Community Drug Rehabilitation Work Plan (2016-2020)”, which proposed implementing the “8.31” project (a community rehabilitation project launched on Aug 31, 2015) for community drug rehabilitation. The plan specifically emphasized developing teams of social workers, requiring drug rehabilitation social workers to account for more than 30 percent of the full-time staff of community drug treatment and community rehabilitation teams by the end of 2019.

In January 2017, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, NNCC and 12 other departments jointly issued the “Opinions on Strengthening the Construction of Anti-Drug Social Work Teams”, which stipulate the duties and tasks, training and development of the country’s anti-drug work.

Regional practice

The Council of Shanghai Ziqiang Social Services, an NGO aiming to provide social services for drug abusers and troubled youth, was established at the end of 2003, which took the initiative in integrating full-time anti-drug social workers into community drug rehabilitation — providing professional social work services for community drug rehabilitation workers across Shanghai. Since 2007, many districts in Shanghai have begun to explore the establishment of regional social organizations to tackle the problem. On Jan 22, 2021, the Shanghai Narcotic Control Committee and Shanghai Administration of Market Regulation released the “Anti-Drug Social Work Service Guide”, the first local standard for drug-related social work in China.

In Guangdong Province, Shenzhen Narcotic Control Committee appointed Futian District to serve as the pilot area for anti-drug social workers to operate in communities starting October 2008, with two social work agencies commissioned to provide the services. In 2009, the political and law commissions of Baoan and Longgang districts also started to implement anti-drug work in sub-district offices through government-purchased services. Since then, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Zhuhai, Foshan, Zhongshan and other cities in the province have also begun to promote anti-drug work. Following years of exploration, social organizations dedicated to tackling drug addiction and social work teams in Guangdong Province have continued to develop and grow.

Other provinces such as Hubei, Guizhou, and Ningxia have launched several anti-drug projects through government purchase.