Thailand is the ASEAN hub for illicit drugs with 1.3 million drug addicts, said Justice Minister General Paiboon Kumchaya.
Presiding over yesterday's launch of a project to force addicts into drug rehabilitation programme, Paiboon said the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) and police reported that 2 per cent of the population were addicts.
He said 250,000 of them had been jailed, while about 1 million had not sought rehabilitation. The youngest addict was seven years old.
The general said that as most addicts returned to their habit after attending rehabilitation programmes, he had instructed the ONCB and ministry officials to formulate a rehabilitation system that clearly separated general addicts from inmate addicts, had clear methods and good follow-up activities.
He said drug-related laws would be used to ensure related agencies were on the same page when tackling the problem.
Since the rehabilitation programme did not guarantee success, the ministry would provide clear training guidelines people such as drill instructors, as sometimes up to 70 per cent of conscripts were addicts.
He said the programme would set an attainable goal to make at least 10 per cent of addicts sober.
"The world also agrees that imprisonment is not the answer to convince drug convicts to give up the habit," he said.
"Some 200,000 drug inmates were not major dealers but drug-ring workers."
Paiboon said he would also arrange for a yearly evaluation on how many big-fish dealers had been caught and how much the ONCB had succeeded in striking at the heart of drug-trafficking organisations.
The arrests of drug-ring workers will not be counted, he said.
Meanwhile, seven tonnes of illicit drugs worth about Bt6.565 billion (S$262 million) was burned yesterday as part of the country's 44th official illicit-drug incineration ceremony in Ayutthaya's Bang Pa-in Industrial Estate.
The drugs - seized from 1,059 cases - included 19 million yaba pills worth Bt5.8 billion and 318 kilograms of "ice".
They were destroyed via the environmentally friendly pyrolytic incineration method, which burned the drugs at a temperature of over 850 degrees Celsius.
Meanwhile, in the North, the Provincial Police Region 5 yesterday announced the seizure of 1.2 million yaba pills and 30 kilograms of "ice".
The drugs were found in an abandoned car at Chiang Rai's Mae Sai Hospital parking lot.
The car's owner was identified as Natchanant Mahatthanasitthichok - believed to be a member of drug ring that was allegedly run by Lt-Colonel Yi Se - and has reportedly fled to Myanmar.
In related news, Provincial Police Region 8 yesterday announced the arrest of four members of a drug ring in Surat Thani's Phunphin district along with 13,000 yaba pills, 85 grams of "ice", a shot gun with ammunition, Bt400,000 and three cars.
The three men and one woman reportedly confessed that a Klong Prem inmate had ordered them to distribute the drugs in Nakhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani.