The proliferation of narcotics, such as heroin, cocaine, cannabis, ecstasy and ice, in Sri Lanka, their widespread use and the subsequent addiction to one or the other of these intoxicants is only too well known. Although news of the detection and seizure of large quantities of narcotics and the arrest of narcotic peddlers, distributors and traffickers is regular news in the electronic and print media, the end to the narcotics menace is nowhere in sight. Unlike the deadly COVID-19, which is often described as an unseen enemy, the equally deadly narcotics trade including the increasing supply to meet the increasing demand is no longer a secret.
Recently there was the alarming news of a new method of drug trafficking through the sale and use of inhalers, normally used in respiratory illness, targetting students attending schools in Colombo and the suburbs.
According to Police Spokesman SSP Jaliya Senaratne this has been found to be one of the latest and frightening methods being used by peddlers to lure unsuspecting schoolchildren to the use of narcotics. He said investigations had been launched after several parents had handed over such inhalers to the police.
Alongside the curse of drug addiction come several drug rehabilitation centres, on the one hand operated by the State at Kandakadu and Senapura in the Polonnaruwa District in the news recently in connection with the COVID-related clusters and on the other hand the several rehabilitation centres operated by the private sector.
One such was Seasons Lanka, a branch of an Australian-type drug rehabilitation centre, which was highlighted in the Daily Mirror last week and other such centres are our focus today. The investigative report said Britisher, Charles Jeevan Beare had checked into this rehabilitation centre seeking a cure for his addiction to Ketamine. But sadly though, five weeks into the rehabilitation process, his mother Maryanne India Beare was informed of the death of her 37-year-old son.
The centre located at Waskaduwa in Kalutara is known to have attracted drug-addicted foreigners through an aggressive advertising campaign and according to the report had been functioning for nearly five months allegedly outside any government regulations. It was abruptly shut down in the wake of Charles’ death.
An engineer by profession, Charles was battling his addiction for many years. His friends and family are said to have helped him to raise 5,200 pounds sterling, the equivalent of Rs.1,300,000 for the much-awaited three-month-long rehabilitation programme at Seasons Lanka, the Daily Mirror investigative report said.
The aforesaid brings to the limelight the grave concerns about such private drug rehabilitation centres that operate outside the radar of government regulations and the kind of treatment dispensed to drug addicts who knock on the doors of these centres seeking relief and release from the tentacles that the addicts are entwined in. The DM report says that according to the Alcohol & Drug Information Centre (ADIC), more than 35,000 Sri Lankans die of alcohol and tobacco use annually and that many are being diagnosed with mental disorders from the use of narcotics such as cannabis and heroin. It says that currently, the private rehabilitation industry in Sri Lanka is growing, largely unregulated and highly expensive.
ADIC says that with the growing demand for treatment to wean away addicts from their dependence on narcotics, tougher standards, better screening and greater oversight are needed to improve patient safety because the lack of oversight of the drug rehabilitation industry rebounds negatively on the addicts and their families.
According to the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB), there are more than 12 private drug rehabilitation centres located in the Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara districts operating without a valid license. The DM ‘Eye’ report quotes NDDCB Chairman Dr. Laknath Welagedara as saying that under the guidance of the Defence Ministry the NDDCB is making every effort to regulate these centres.
Where the government-operated rehabilitation centres are concerned, there is without doubt the assurance that they provide a service at little or no cost to the addicts who seek help. But what of the centres operated by private entities whose motive according to the DM report is to fleece unsuspecting drug addicts often at the end of their tether, depressed and despondent. Private drug rehabilitation centers are a lucrative business, extorting money from the vulnerable addicts and their families desperately seeking a cure for their loved ones with the lack of regulations only benefiting the unscrupulous owners. Will the authorities be jolted into wakefulness and regulate these questionable private rehabilitation centres before something drastic happens?