As the United States shifts away from the criminal model of addiction and towards the disease/disorder model, similar to Europe, parts of Asia continue to take a very hard line against drug possession and misuse.
Japan is no exception. Until now.
A 22-year-old man twice convicted of using stimulants became a trainee at a rehabilitation facility in western Japan this spring, after a court took the rare step of sparing him imprisonment for using drugs while serving a suspended sentence for a separate drug charge.
His lawyer is calling for other courts to follow suit, saying addiction is a disease and can be cured more effectively through therapy and rehabilitation in society rather than in prison.
Yusuke began using stimulant drugs when he was 18. But he always wanted to quit. After talking it over with his family and friends, he turned himself in.
In March 2015, the Osaka District Court sentenced him to 16 months in prison, suspended for three years, for violating the Stimulants Control Law.
Two months after the verdict, Yusuke began working at a nursing care facility for the elderly. But when he went out with a friend one day, he bumped into a drug dealer he used to know.
“Something turned on like a switch, and I thought, maybe, just this once,” Yusuke recalled.
But he immediately felt guilty. He confided the drug use to his superiors and turned himself in again. Before long he was charged for a second time.
“I hated being alone, and used drugs out of loneliness. It was tough living,” he said.
In recent years, programs that allow drug addicts to rehabilitate within society rather than behind bars have been drawing attention, prompting the government to submit a revised law allowing a portion of a prison sentence for convicted drug abusers to be suspended. The law went into effect last June.
Toshihiko Matsumoto, director of the Drug Dependence Research Department at the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry, met with Yusuke and submitted a written opinion to the court stating that imprisonment would cause a regression.
“The idea that community-based therapy, rather than the application of penalties, should be given more weight is a worldwide trend based on various studies,” Matsumoto said in an interview.