Kicking the deadly drug habit | Daily News

Kicking the deadly drug habit

Part 2 of the government’s effort to help addicts recover and re-integrate into society:
Facets of life at the Senapura Rehabilitation Centre.
Facets of life at the Senapura Rehabilitation Centre.

The Kandakadu and Senapura Drug Rehabilitation Centres in the Polonnaruwa District are an ambitious endeavour, not only as a solution to prison congestion and ridding addicts of the drug habit, but also to benefit the offender who will, at the end of the rehabilitation period, be equipped with life skills which could be productively used. It will also mitigate the risk of these petty offenders returning to society as hard-core criminals.

Having gone through the first six months of their rehabilitation process at the Kandakadu Rehab Centre (featured in the Daily News yesterday), where the main focus is on helping them heal mentally and spiritually and building their self-confidence, they are then transferred to the Senapura Centre where they will receive life skills that will help them find employment the rehabilitation is complete and they are ready to be re-integrated into society.

In this regard, they will receive the NVQ Level 111 certification which will make it easier for them to get into the workforce. These young men undergo vocational training in the fields of carpentry, computer programming, plumbing and so on. It is always not just routine work and meditation and counselling sessions. These men are also given the opportunity to relax and even engage in music which is also a form of therapy. It is amazing to see how talented these young men are and it would have been a shame to allow them to waste their talents and their lives by being addicted to drugs and eventually spending their lives in and out of prison.

Most of these inmates suffer from various illnesses which they realise only after they have stopped taking drugs. Among these drug rehabilitants are also those who have socially transmitted diseases and all of them are assigned separate billets while strict measures are taken to prevent any sexual activity.

Throughout the night, from 10 pm to 7 am, the next morning, the staff members on duty constantly visit the billets of the rehabilitants. No room has been left for even the duty officers to shirk their responsibility as throughout the night they have to visit the billets and record all the details in a log book.

The commitment of the staff at both these centres is highly commendable. Despite Maj. Nandasiri living just 20 minutes away from the rehabilitation centre, he is committed to his task and only goes home once in 28 days when he gets leave. In addition to their drug addiction, there are others who also have been charged for rape, murder and other anti-social activities. Hence, sometimes there are violent confrontations and fights which the staff have to handle carefully. Sometimes they may even try to intimidate the staff members and they have to act in a very tactful manner. This is not hard for them as they are trained counsellors and know how to handle them. There are also two of the drug rehabilitants who have been tested positive for HIV and they are constantly monitored and given the needed treatment by the medical staff.

During the visit by the Daily News to the Senapura Centre, we were fortunate to witness a ceremony where a group of drug rehabilitants had completed their rehabilitation process and were being united with their families.

Going home

Addressing the gathering, the Deputy Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, Brigadier Dharshana Liyanage said after the war ended in 2009, around 12,700 ex-LTTE combatants were rehabilitated at these facilities. Thereafter, the decision was taken to transform these facilities to rehabilitate the thousands of drug addicts who would otherwise end up serving time in prisons, which does nothing to address their drug issues. “Although we had to face criticism initially, we were determined as we were confident that we could take on the task of rehabilitating these addicts just as effectively as we rehabilitated the ex-combatants. We commenced the drug rehabilitation programme in 2013 with just 21 addicts. Today, we have around 1,500 of them at Kandakadu and Senapura. The growing numbers are not a good thing, but if we can prevent most of them from going back to drugs, then we have achieved our objective.”

“We also intend to expand this service to other districts as well. Once these men are rehabilitated and reunited with their families, we don’t wash our hands off and think that our job is done. We have a very effective follow-up programme where we regularly check up on them to ensure they don’t relapse. Once they return to society, they can always come to us for guidance on employment, training or any other personal matter and we are always ready to assist them,” he said, adding that the staff at these centres take a personal interest in all those who come here seeking assistance to kick the drug habit. According to Brig. Liyanage, the monthly consumption of heroin in the country is around 1,000 kg.

A father of one of the youth undergoing the rehabilitation programme, Wickramage, made an emotional appeal to his son and all those who are addicted to drugs to never let this drug scourge take over their lives and ruin them and their families. He spoke of the pain and devastation drugs caused his family. His son who was married and has a young child, had been a bright student, but because of bad influence had got hooked on drugs. “I never thought that one day I would be addressing a gathering where my son was at a drug rehabilitation centre. We as parents are still very sceptical, but we have great hope because every time I got the opportunity to visit my son, I have seen a big change in him. However, only over time can we be certain our children have kicked the drug habit for good. I have faith in this facility as they are very strict and don’t allow anything to be brought in from out. Even when we come in they check us thoroughly. I must say that while our children have been institutionalised at this facility, remember that even your parents have been institutionalised with you, although we are at home. We love our children very much and I don’t know if we have failed in our parenting that our children have ended up in this state. But, I earnestly hope that all those undergoing treatment here will take this opportunity and take responsibility for their lives and kick this habit. Although, you have ended up this way, we as parents still love you very much,” he said fighting the tears that rolled down his face.

One of the youth being rehabilitated at the Senapura Centre, Nimantha Wickramage speaking to the Daily News describing the manner in which he got hooked on drugs, said his habit started during his O/L exams at age 15 and continued until he was sent to this facility at 29. My wife has suffered a lot because of my addiction and I cannot describe the pain I have put my parents through. I was a Navy sailor, but I left the Navy because of my addiction. I spent most of my earnings on my addiction and had basically nothing to look after my wife and child with. I hope to find a job when I get out, since I have stayed absolutely clean over the past year.

Nipun’s story

Nipun had been addicted to heroin at a very young age and as the youngest in the family, his mother never believed that her son was hooked on drugs. “I found out only very recently that my son was addicted to drugs. I was blinded by my love for my son and I never believed that he had got into such a mess. I love him so much. When I see my son and the other children here, I am amazed as when my son was at home, he never even washed a cup at home, but here they are so disciplined and calm. This centre and the military staff have really changed these boys and I am so happy to see them so disciplined and clean, said Nipun’s mother. Nipun said he would really try his best to stay clean as he realises how much pain he had caused his mother and despite all what he had done, she never gave up on him. “I know I have hurt her so much and done immense wrong. I want to change that and the only way I can seek forgiveness from my mother is by staying clean and taking care of her as she has done for me.”

All about routine

Yasitha (28) hails from a well-to-do family and was educated at an international school in Colombo. After his O/Levels, he got a job and later obtained a degree as well. However, his parents had split up and he had been living by himself and later started working for Emirates in Dubai. Due to bad company, he got hooked to cocaine, LSD and eventually, heroin, and then was deported as he got caught with 20g of cocaine.

After he returned, he got a place to live and got a job at a travel centre. However, he started using heroin again and the police placed him here through the courts. “I’m very happy that after I came here for one year. I have not even had a cigarette. The physical training has also made be physically stronger. The main reason that I got into drugs is that I was basically by myself and there was no one to guide me. I had lost contact with my parents. The authorities got in touch with them and they promised to come and see me. Sadly, they did not come, but I hope they will come tomorrow to see me. However, after this treatment, now I have learnt to love myself and I am confident that when I get out of here, I will be able to get a job and I will get the chance to start life over.

The Centre’s Director Col. Azad Izadeen said that when these drug addicts first arrive, they don’t want to stay and try to get out. However, as time passes, they get used to the routine and once they know they have no choice but to stay sober, they start seeing life in a whole new manner. He said the Dangerous Drugs Control Board also plays a big role in this endeavour. He said they have the capacity to accommodate around 3,000 drug addicts, but it costs around Rs. 4 billion to construct all the required facilities. However, there is a significant increase in the number which is sent here for rehabilitation and around 250 are sent to this centre per month. According to Col. Izadeen, there are around 70,000 to 80,000 drug addicts in Sri Lanka and the hope is to rehabilitate all of them.

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