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Saturday, 26 June 2010

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World anti-drugs day and our own Mathata Thita

The United Nations has declared June 26 as the World Anti-Drugs Day. This is an annual world event aimed at raising the awareness of the scourge of narcotic drugs and the social responsibility of both State and the society to maintain the momentum in its combat in eradicating this menace

[Fight against drugs]

* Commonly abused drug heroin

* Cocaine and marjuana mainly found in Latin America and North America

* Mathata Thitha helps drug addicts to take treatment

* National Dangerous Drugs Control Board runs four centres to treat drug addicts

* New legislation on treatment of Drug Dependent Persons Act


 

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is the principal arm of the UN in the global fight against drugs. The UNODC with its Narcotics Laboratory and the scientific research division along with its training and enforcement divisions is logistically and scientifically equipped to lead the global fight against this scourge of narcotic drugs.


Brazilian policemen show guns, rifles and drugs seized during a raid against drug
trafficking at the Mineira slum, in Rio de Janeiro. Picture courtesy: Google

There are two aspects to the problem of narcotic drugs. The supply and the demand. The most commonly abused drug is heroin. The thick juice from the poppy (papaver somniferum) is transformed through an indigenous process to whitish to brown powder. It is commonly abused by sniffing the smoke fume or latterly sometimes by injecting the liquid form of heroin.

The supply is from two regions the golden crescent in Afghanistan, Iran and the surrounding countries and the golden triangle in the far East Laos, Cambodia and Northern Thailand.

The region of the golden triangle is now almost free from opium cultivation. Iran is now growing the poppy (post Shah regime) under State supervision.

It is Afghanistan the bulk supplier of heroin to the underworld drug mafia internationally. The UNODC is also gravely concerned and deeply involved in eradicating the cocaine and marjuana in the Western hemisphere mainly Latin America and North America.

Afghan heroin

The Afghan supply cannot be sustained by the growers of the poppy in Afghanistan if they do not get the base chemical which is an absolute requirement in the process of production of heroin, viz-acetic anhydride.

This chemical is not produced in Afghanistan, but is smuggled into the country by the traffickers from neighbouring countries - India and Pakistan.

The supply route to Sri Lanka is also the same through Pakistan and India. A trend is now getting established for the Afghan heroin to come to Sri Lanka sometimes through other Middle Eastern countries. The traffickers move from Karachchi-Pakistan to Dubai or other Middle East destinations and then return to Colombo. This stuff sometimes go to Male and from there to European destinations. Another very significant detection had been done recently where heroin was smuggled (nearly four kgs with a street value of nearly Rs 24 Million) by a Nepalese national from Kathmandu.

This shows that the trafficking mafia is ready to use unsuspecting routes and careers.

The latest haul of 40 kgs from Chilaw area had been brought in by an expert swimmer taking it over in mid ocean and swimming with the 40 kg pack on his back to safety. Yet the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) was able to nab him and his booty.

Drug mafia

This type of smuggling is happening in other Eastern and far Eastern seas, mostly for synthetic heroin and psychotropic substances and the same modus oprandi is being tested out here in Sri Lanka.

It is also important to note that certain other opioid analgesics like Morphine, Methodone, Pethidine and Buprenophine are produced and these although under strict control legally yet are widely abused by drug addicts, due to lack of proper control and supervision by the authorities.

Heroin is not the only narcotic substance that is being abused. With the onset of a massive global war against the spread of the poppy the drug mafia has turned their resources and their criminal acumen on producing synthetic narcotic drugs, as the plant based narcotics production is becoming more difficult with effective law enforcement. This is where certain chemicals which are absolutely essential for industries and industrial growth specially in developing countries are being used as base chemicals known as precursor chemicals for the manufacture of synthetic narcotic drugs commonly known and classified as amphetamine type stimulants and psychotropic substances. There are 23 chemicals in this group. It is found by the UNODC that these are used to produce synthetic narcotics in place of plant-based heroin.

Narcotics drugs

The International convention on narcotics drugs and psychotropic substances was signed in 1988 to combat the rising menace of synthetic narcotics drugs manufactured by using the 23 chemicals which are known as Precursor chemicals.

The member countries of the UN were given a 10 year period after becoming signatory to it to have their local legislation parallel and compatible with the convention.

Sri Lanka signed the convention only in June 1998, so that we had to have our law before the end of June 2008.

The NDDCB was able under the present Minister in-charge of the subject, the President, to have Act No. 1 of 2008 enacted as part of our law on January 23, 2008 ahead of the lapse of the ten-year period.

This legislation brought in a regime of control for the importation, storage, distribution and use of these 23 chemicals, classified as Precursor chemicals. It was about the same time that the NDDCB received information about a suspected exportation of some Precursors being made to Sri Lanka, which information was passed unto the relevant law enforcement authorities who commenced inquiry into the whereabouts and the use of these chemicals.

This led to the discovery by the 1st clandestine laboratory producing a highly addictive dangerous narcotic drug known as Amphetamine. Under this Act No. 1 of 2008 a Precursor Control Authority is being set up with all the stakeholders assistance and representation on this Authority in order to control and supervise the use of these 23 Precursor chemicals from the point of its entry into the country, to see that non of these chemicals fall into the hands of the drugs mafia.

The all-important role-played by the PNB the Customs and the Excise personnel in the control of the supply of narcotics drugs and substances has to be recorded with great appreciation.

Level of addiction

The other side of the coin is the demand for narcotic substances. It is the demand of the abusers or the addicts.

The demand depends on the level of addiction an abuser has. Demand reduction is the other struggle the society is faced with.

It is now well established that drug addicts will not respond to curative treatment and that it is Palliative care which is the method of treatment of drug addicts. Because drug addicts desire for drugs demand is not responsive to medicines or curative treatment.

Presently the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board runs four centres for treatment of drug addicts. In one of its centres - at Urapola, Nawadiganthaya - they have commenced treatment for alcoholics as well. The treatment methodology practiced on these centres is the psychosocial method. This method of treatment of drug addicts have recorded a success rate of 22 to 25 percent over the period of nearly 26 years. The inmates are provided with the meals and dormitory accommodation with mosquito nets and comfortable bed and beddings with bathing and other facilities. Physical exercise and recreation also is provided.

Private treatment

Except the cost-sharing centre at Urapola, all others are free, but soon that also may have to go free.

There are a number of other private - NGO centres in the country. The N.D.D.C.B. had received complaints from some of these private treatment centres about abuses and serious violations of personal liberty where the inmates had been chained or beaten up.

The N.D.D.C.B. had taken various measures in regard to those complaints. All these private sector treatment centres charged money from the people who come for treatment. The most important fact is that in most of these places, perhaps except the Mithuru Mithuro there are no suitable trained or qualified staff to undertake treatment.

In some places basic sanitary requirements are minimal, accommodation too is unhealthy.

This situation called for some action by the State in regulating the activities in this regard, not only to bring in some uniformity to the entire system, of treatment of drug addicts, but also to safeguard their rights. This became all-important with the Government’s policy of Mathata Thitha.

Hence the new legislation on treatment of Drug Dependent Persons Act No. 54 of 2007.

This is another piece of legislation towards realisation of the State policy of Mathata Thitha.

This law decriminalised the drug abuser.

Thereby two objects are achieved, one the peddler, the trafficker is differentiated from the abuser. The abuser is the victim, the trafficker, the peddler, the Criminal Law has to safeguard and treat the victim to get away from addiction.

Mathata Thitha

As expressed in the forum of the International Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in March 2008, in Vienna, the theory of the present Sri Lankan Government as expressed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Mathata Thitha is to take the drug addict, from his addiction through the path of treatment to get away from addiction and reach the stage of abstinence - Mathata Thitha.

This is quite different from taking the addict from the point of addiction to heroin and get him hooked to Methadone Buprenorphine, which too are narcotics.

In that sense in the setting of addiction to narcotics, drugs or alcohol or tobacco the endeavour has to be to get away from the psychological state of addiction and help the addict to reach abstinence where he will be completely free from intoxicants, Mathata Thitha.

If this is implemented in other parts of the world, however much the supply is rampant demand could be brought to zero and the society freed of this scourge of drugs.

The writer is the Immediate Past Chairman of the NDDCB

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