- Kamani Hettiarachchi
The use of ice (crystal methamphetamine) has sparked much controversy in Sri Lanka. Available information suggests that this drug is widely spreading among school children and the young generation in Sri Lanka. As a result, various programs have been implemented targeting school children in the country.
The history of the use of drugs among Sri Lankans dates back to the year 1505 when the Portuguese invaded Sri Lanka. ‘Abin,’ an opioid drug, was the most popular drug among addicts at that time. After the 1970s, heroin became a popular drug in Sri Lanka. Some even interpret it as a negative impact of the open economy. Although heroin has been identified as the world’s most popular drug, today in Sri Lanka the drug that is spreading like an epidemic is crystal methamphetamine also known as ‘ice.’
According to the figures issued by the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board, the number of heroin addicts is about 9.3 million, while the number of cannabis addicts is nearly 0.4 million. It appears that no official figures have yet been released regarding the prevalence of ‘ice’ drug addiction among children. However, to deal with the catastrophic situation that has risen, the government decided to establish a Presidential Task Force to prevent the use of toxic and dangerous drugs. This shows that even the government identifies this as as a larger social issue.
The task force and the government have focused on drug prevention, identifying drug addicts and drug dealers, and providing treatment and counseling services for drug addicts.
Rehabilitation of drug addicts is a major responsibility of the government. It is the responsibility of the government as well as the entire society to reintegrate these people back into society as good citizens. Residential treatment facilities and rehabilitation services for drug addicts in Sri Lanka are run by the government as well as non-governmental organizations. However, as indicated by many parties involved in this process, compared to the demand, the necessary facilities for rehabilitation are minimal. Therefore, this is a social problem that needs attention.
Dr. Manoj Fernando, a senior lecturer at Rajarata University, who carries with him a wealth of knowledge on this subject, points out that most of the existing rehabilitation centers in the country do not operate according to proper standards.
The National Dangerous Drugs Control Board of Sri Lanka is the pioneer government agency that is carrying out its work to eliminate the drug menace in the country. Some of their main functions include the treatment of drug addicts and drug-dependent people, and rehabilitation.
A response received to an RTI request filed to the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board reveals the inadequacy of rehabilitation centers which lies as a strong obstacle in the rehabilitation of drug addicts. The following information was provided by information officer R.M.S.P.M. Ratnayake of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board.
Currently, there are 17 government institutions and 24 non-government institutions that rehabilitate drug addicts in Sri Lanka. There are 4 centers operated by the said board and two centers operated by the Department of Social Services. The Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation runs one center, and the Prisons Department runs ten more rehabilitation centers (designated).
There are 24 private rehabilitation centers recognized by the government while 12 private treatment centers have been registered among those centers.
In response to a query regarding the number of people who can be rehabilitated these centers, the board has provided the following numbers; The Western Province Preventive Treatment and Rehabilitation Institute has forty clients, the Southern Province Preventive Treatment and Rehabilitation Institute has 35 clients, and the Central Province Institute has 35 clients. The New Digantaya Institute rehabilitates one hundred clients. This is the number of people rehabilitated at one time and the duration of treatment is three months.
When asked how much more space or number of centers is required to reduce or prevent the existing congestion in those centers the Board said “Drug treatment and rehabilitation is voluntary and provided for by the Drug Addiction (Treatment and Rehabilitation) Act of 2007 No. 54 through the courts and services are provided on an ad hoc basis. Necessary steps have been taken to develop a community-based treatment for non-residential patients.”
When asked if the authorities have been informed about these limited facilities the board responded in the affirmative even though they didn’t provide any names or designations of the said authorities.
According to the 2019 report of the United Nations Organization on Crime and Narcotics, twenty-seven million people between the ages of 15 and 64 used drugs at least once in 2017. This number accounts for 5.5% of the world’s population. So it is clear that this problem is not limited to Sri Lanka. However, our geographic location is one of the major factors affecting Sri Lanka’s vulnerability to drugs. Since Sri Lanka is located between the two main drug-producing regions of the world, the Golden Crescent, which includes Pakistan and Iran, and the Golden Triangle, which also includes Burma, Thailand, and Laos, Sri Lanka has become a center for drug trafficking. This is a matter that deserves special attention from the authorities.
Imprisonment of drug addicts has become a major contributor to the current congestion in the prison system of Sri Lanka. Those who were imprisoned due to the lack of facilities available for rehabilitation, commit the same crimes again once they are released from prison, resulting in a cycle of re-imprisonment for these crimes. Although the Dangerous Drugs Control Board is set up to rehabilitate drug addicts, among several obstacles that slow them, the lack of space in the existing rehabilitation centers deserves special attention. The sad fact is that a person hoping to be rehabilitated has to wait in the waiting list for several years. Further concealment of this problem will only transform it into a serious social tragedy.