Photo/IllutrationYoshiharu Hachiya of the Metropolitan Police Department has held the monthly No Drugs workshop for drug users and their families for about 10 years. (Chihaya Inagaki)

  • Photo/Illustraion

As a veteran police officer in Tokyo, Yoshiharu Hachiya believes that arresting drug users is not the only way law enforcement can be useful.

For the past 10 years, he has held a monthly workshop to try to help addicts swear off illegal substances so they can lead happier and more productive lives.

In his No Drugs workshop, Hachiya, 62, gets drug users to share with one another the problems they face in the hope it will eventually lead them to losing their dependence on getting high.

A recent session involved 50 people, including many who had habitually ingested stimulants, smoked cannabis and taken other substances. They were divided into seven groups and exchanged opinions at the lecture hall and the cafeteria of the capital's Ikebukuro Police Station.

In some groups, family members of drug users discussed their own problems.

A licensed psychiatric worker, a lawyer and a police official also attended the 90-minute session.

As the gathering neared its end, Hachiya, a captain in the Metropolitan Police Department's No. 5 anti-organized crime division that deals with drug-related cases, addressed the participants in a soft tone.

“I do not want you to simply stop taking drugs,” he said. “My hope is that you will cherish yourself and your families. When you reach that happy state, there will be no need for you to come back. But until that happens, I would like you to keep coming."

A 25-year-old nursing care worker who attends the workshop said she started using stimulants when she was 14, adding that she first met Hachiya three and a half years ago.

“I still sometimes feel like taking drugs, but I can fight that urge when telling my story in front of others,” she said.

She receives encouragement from family members of other drug users who are worried about her health and other issues.

“People here think seriously about me and provide encouragement,” she said. “I will continue making efforts not to start taking drugs again, and reward their faith in me.”

Hachiya became determined to try and help drug users following an incident in 2008, about 10 years after he started handling drug-related cases.

A man Hachiya had arrested over stimulant drug use was again arrested by a colleague.

“Arresting perpetrators is not the only duty of the police,” Hachiya decided. “Efforts to prevent them from recidivism are also important.”

National Police Agency statistics show that law enforcement took action on 13,862 individuals nationwide for suspected drug use last year.

Of them, 9,868 and 3,578 took stimulants and cannabis, respectively, accounting for almost all of the offenders.

Stimulant users often go back to their old habits. The recidivism rate reached 66.1 percent last year.

Hachiya started his counseling sessions in August 2009. More than 400 drug users, family members and others have taken part in his workshop.

Not everybody is able to kick the habit.

Three former drug users who took part in the workshop have been rearrested. While two of them stopped coming to the gathering after four months, the other individual attended for 18 months and then disappeared.

The repeat offenders did not have any friends or family members who could encourage them to stay clean.

“Too much assistance makes it impossible for people to do things they could do by themselves before,” said Hachiya. “What is important is to offer support in a way that they will finally be able to cope without coming to us.”