Three celebrities were arrested in November in connection with narcotics – actress Erika Sawajiri, 33; former singer and comedian Masashi Tashiro, 63; and Olympic snowboarder Kazuhiro Kokubo, 31. The notoriety their professions assure them must be gratifying as a symbol of success and mass admiration, but it has its price. Social media hammered them: “What, again?” “Don’t they ever learn?”
Spa! (Dec 3-10) asks: “To punish, or to treat?” with respect to drug addiction. Clearly, Japan’s tendency to punish is not only a judicial predilection but a social one. It’s misguided, says Spa!. Europe and, more gradually, the U.S. are shifting away from punishment to treatment. The results they are achieving are worthy of Japan’s notice.
Sawajiri’s case generated the most headlines, but Spa! focuses mainly on Tashiro. He grew up in a troubled family and graduated to entertainment from adolescent involvement in bosozoku (motorcycle gangs). His first of numerous narcotics-related arrests was for amphetamine use in 2001. In and out of jail, he was paroled in 2014 and underwent rehabilitation. Five clean years followed.
“The image of Tashiro under a hood being hustled off to the police station was replayed endlessly on TV,” says Tsukuba University psychologist Takayuki Harada. “In April 2016, the U.N. General Assembly reaffirmed its commitment to protect the human rights and dignity of drug users. Tashiro’s punishment, not only legal but in the kangaroo court of public opinion, violates the spirit of the U.N. resolution.”
It violates common sense too, Spa! maintains. European and American research has shown that treatment in prison reduces recidivism by 15 percent; treatment in freedom reduces it by 30 percent. There’s a cost factor too. Imprisonment is expensive. Each prisoner costs the state on average 3.8 million yen a year. Suppose instead a drug addict undergoes treatment instead at a live-in facility. The cost, according to U.S. data, is 1.29 million yen. Out-patient treatment is more economical still: 290,000 yen.
Decriminalization, moreover, says Harada, allows an addict to seek treatment without fearing arrest. In Japan, addicts who wants to quit may well hesitate to come forward, prolonging their misery and deepening their addiction.
Does treatment work? Tashiro’s apparent relapse raises doubts – wrongly, argues addiction therapist Akiyoshi Saito. Relapses, he explains, are par for the course: “You might even say they’re part of the cure.” Far from meriting opprobrium, “Tashiro on the contrary deserves credit for staying clean for five years.”
It would be a shame, he adds, if prison were to interrupt Tashiro’s treatment. “There are treatment programs in prison, but they’re less effective than those in society.”
It was a Japanese chemist, ironically enough, who was the first to synthesize methamphetamine – in 1893. His name is Nagayoshi Nagai (1844-1929). Sent in 1871 by the modernizing Meiji government to study in Berlin, he went on to become Japan’s first doctor of pharmacy. Spa! reminds us of a wisp of history long forgotten: In World War Two, Japanese and allied armies alike routinely supplied their soldiers with meth – to keep them awake and alert through the long, bitter and exhausting hours, days, months and years of slaughter.© Japan Today