Drug Rehab More Focused Now

By Camelia Nathaniel

Rehabilitants getting ready for lunch

Drug addiction is a disease that has plagued this country for a very long time and it was much easier for everyone to ignore the issue and think that putting the addicts behind bars was the best solution. However drug addiction is not a crime and in fact those addicted to this deadly habit are victims. But changing the mindset of the public takes time. The stigma attached to substance abuse, as well as a heavy dose of denial about the root and scope of the problem has prevented addicts from receiving the help they need to rid themselves of the addiction.

However at the initiative of President Rajapaksa, the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms and the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation decided to utilise the facility, that was once used to rehabilitate ex-LTTE cadres in Kandakadu in the Eastern Province, and transform it into a substance-abuse rehabilitation centre. This is a positive sign that attitudes are slowly changing as the authorities begin to confront an uncomfortable problem that had long been ignored. In the past, drug addicts when brought before the courts were handed down prison sentences. However one of the biggest problems in combatting the drug menace in this country has been that prison is a haven for these addicts and there have been many instances where even those prisoners who had never used drugs before had eventually come out of prison being addicted to them.

Therefore a special Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre in Kandakadu where the ex LTTE cadres were rehabilitated, has been established under the direct instructions and guidance of the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, by the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB) in consultation with the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms for the care and rehabilitation of drug dependent prisoners. The aim of this initiative is to provide a more effective treatment and rehabilitation program in collaboration with the Department of Social Services and NDDCB. Under this program drug addicted prisoners are transferred to this special rehabilitation centre through the Courts.

During a recent visit to the facility The Sunday Leader spoke with some of the rehabilitants about their treatment and the effectiveness of the program. According to the officer-in-charge at the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Centre, there were 526 drug addicts as at last Wednesday, who were receiving treatment at the centre. He added that another 30 were scheduled to be sent to the centre by Saturday. One of the main issues facing these rehabilitants is the lack of family bonding. Perhaps the families have distanced themselves from these individuals due to their addiction and the problems they create for their families. For instance 179 family members of those undergoing rehabilitation had been asked to come to visit them on the family day, but only 15 came the first time, then it went down to eight and by the fourth visit only two family members came to visit.

Due to their drug habit and the difficulties they caused for their families as a result of their addiction, most families have distanced themselves from addicted relations. Even if they are told that these addicts are being rehabilitated, they seem to have little faith that it would work.The lack of family support has also been a factor which prevented these addicts from seeking help to rid themselves of this deadly habit. In some cases certain rehabilitants had been introduced to drugs while serving jail terms for other offences.
Whatever the reason, this program is the most effective so far, as this is the only facility that prevents any form of addictive substances from reaching the rehabilitants while in recovery.

However in spite of the effectiveness of the rehabilitation program, if the follow-up phase is not effective, it could jeopardize the whole process. Therefore all departments concerned should coordinate their efforts systematically in order to derive the best possible results from this rehabilitation program for drug addicts and rid society of the scourge of drug addiction.

Dr R. Madigasekera

We conduct a mental health clinic every week, where we do mental health screening for the rehabilitants to identify any mental conditions they may be suffering from. In some cases these drug rehabilitants need special counselling and in these instances we provide them with the required therapy.In the case of psychiatric patients we have a special clinic exclusively for them once a month. The medicines required are brought here by the Polonnaruwa hospital. One of the main issues we see in these drug addicts are their social issues which have in fact contributed largely to their addiction.

The family background and financial issues have been the root cause for some of these patients to seek solace in drugs, while there are others who have been suffering from mental conditions as well.The patients have told us during the clinic that this rehabilitation centre differs greatly from the others they have been to, because here they are prevented from even having access to a cigarette or even betel. In other places they had access to smoking and had not stopped that habit, but here they say they are even able to kick the smoking habit.

However one of the glitches in this program is the follow up program after they have completed the rehabilitation. We treat these patients while they are here and once they leave this facility we lose track of them which could be detrimental to their recovery. Another factor is that once they leave this program these persons return to the same environment that made them addicted to drugs in the first place and those who engage in trading of drugs and drug use could pressure them to once again take up the habit. Therefore these areas need to be looked at and remedial measures should be planned carefully in order to make this program a complete success.

Major Namal Tillakaratna

Since August last year, 589 drug addicts had been brought to the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Centre, while 57 of them have already been released after undergoing proper rehabilitation of a minimum of six months at the centre. Regrettably though, 29 of them had to be released prior to the completion of their rehabilitation program due to other cases against them. There were about another seven of them who were suffering from mental problems and had to be transferred to the mental hospital in Angoda for treatment. This facility in Kandakadu is only for males and they are sent here on a court order. The rehabilitant has to also express his willingness to undergo this rehabilitation program.

The process is that they come through the Welikada Prison to Polonnaruwa and they are handed over to the rehabilitation centre from there. This facility has around 12 acres of land and since the rehabilitation of LTTE cadres was almost complete, the government had decided to utilize the same strength and resources to render assistance in the rehabilitation of these drug addicts, which is a huge issue in the country.

Prior to this many private organizations had commenced drug rehabilitation programs but preventing drugs from sneaking into those centres was nearly impossible. However here we maintain strict standards and no one can leave the camp and entry to the centre is also monitored carefully. Even the officers attached to this facility are not permitted to even bring in cigarettes, tobacco leaves or betel for their personal consumption. Hence we are able to maintain strict rules here. Even the drug rehabilitants are very pleased with the complete ban on any addictive substance at the centre which they feel has enabled them to kick their addiction effectively.

The facility’s administrative functions are carried out by the Army under the purview of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation. There are also five Air Force personnel attached to the centre. Everything here happens according to a strict schedule, leaving them little or no time to mope around which could make them crave for the drugs.

Group and individual counseling and other psychological therapy sessions are conducted for these rehabilitants while all facilities are made available for them to practice their respective religions. Physical therapy and many sports activities are also made available for the rehabilitants in order to keep them occupied which will deter them from wanting to return to drugs. After the initial mind conditioning programs, they are later given vocational training courses (beginning from NVQ level 3) in masonry, house wiring carpentry and plumbing. More courses are also to be introduced in the near future. A total of 172 rehabilitants have already completed the first batch course. The Social Corrections Bureau monitors those who complete this rehabilitation program through the Ministry of Social Services.


I had been addicted to heroin for the past 15 years and as a result my family including my children have had to suffer immense difficulties. I have been to prison several times prior to this term and I have also been to many rehabilitation programs, but none of those have been of any help to me to rid myself of this habit.

However this program at this centre is different to the others because here the Army is running this centre and even they don’t indulge in any bad habits, not even smoking. I am 60 years old now and I have been addicted to smoking since the age of 16, and my addiction gradually increased, until I was enticed into trying out heroin and have been using these addictive substances for as long as I can remember. Now it’s been nine months since I came here to the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Centre and for that period, I have not had even a single cigarette.

I never thought that I would be able to stop smoking, but since I have been here I realized that it is just a myth that one craves for these addictive substances and they get ‘sick’ if they don’t have it – all that is just in our minds. As we are kept occupied from the time we wake up till the time we go to sleep, no one undergoing the program has ever been ‘sick’.

Now after nine months of rehabilitation I am longing to go back to my family and my children and live happily with them for the remainder of my life. My children are now married and I have lost out on their years of growing up. The least I can do for them now is to at least be there for my grandchildren and be a part of their lives. I could not be a good father but I would like to try to at least be a good grandfather before my life ends.

Suresh Ramanayake

I am 49 years and I have a son. I was married to a lady from the US while I was serving in the Navy. However around 2001 I was court-martialed and sentenced to prison over a certain issue while in the Navy. It was there that I started taking heroin as I saw people in prison living care free even though they were on death row. That is what made me try the drug and before I knew it I was fully addicted to it. During that time my family lost everything and my wife decided to take our son and go back to the US as she was having a hard time coping being in a foreign land. Even after I was released from prison I continued with my substance abuse. However I also voluntarily enrolled myself in many rehabilitation programs as I wanted to rid myself of this habit.

I am proud of this facility because it is run by military personnel like me. We have a good counseling program here and they keep us occupied and we no longer have the urge to seek a ‘high’ from drugs. These officers here make many sacrifices and they are committed to their duty not by requirement but rather by choice and dedication. When I leave this place even though my wife and child have left me I have great faith that I will be able to stay clean. My family runs a furniture business and I am on a good footing financially and I know that my family will also support me and be there for me. In previous centres I have taken drugs even while in rehabilitation, but here since we have absolutely no access to any substance it was easy to give up the habit and stay clean.

Manoj Chathuranga

I am 24 years and I have been addicted to heroin since 2007 while attending classes. My friends were taking drugs at the time and I too was enticed into trying it. That was the starting point for me and I have continued ever since. I enrolled for another vocational training course in Narahenpita after the exams which I failed of course. During that time too I used to take drugs, and I used to harass my parents all the time asking them for money. I needed around Rs. 1,000 per day for my drugs.

I realize now how they must have felt, but when I was drugged I never had any feelings and I was numb to all feelings. When my parents had had enough of my harassment, my father handed me over to the police asking them to send me here. At the time I was furious with him and thought I would never forgive him for betraying me. However now I realize what it must have been like for them and I am thankful to him for handing me in for this rehabilitation and treatment program. I have realized that there is nothing called ‘sick’ it is just a myth. I know now that this addiction can be overcome. My only wish now is to stay clean and restart my life once I get out of this program.

Counsellors from the Ministry of  Social Services

We come here on rotation basis and stay for periods of about a week. One of the issues we have is the lack of facilities. There are times when the Department has not provided us even the basic stationary to carry out our duties.

Another factor is that the courts send addicts here without a proper screening process for mental disorders. When this happens it is hard and also puts the others at risk as their condition could worsen when they are without the required medication. This program is the most effective we have ever seen, but one shortfall we see is the lack of a proper follow-up program in order to monitor their progress at least over a period of time.

Therefore a proper link needs to be established between the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms, Ministry of Social Services and the NDDCB, and for the follow-up obtain the assistance of the Regional Secretaries in the areas where these rehabilitants will be returning to in order to better monitor their progress once they leave this facility. Without follow-up and aftercare for at least a period of one year all this effort taken by this facility will be of no use and just a waste.

1 Comment for “Drug Rehab More Focused Now”

  1. gamarala

    Prevention is better than cure. Even recently large addictive drug shipments have been detected in air & sea ports,but these continue,according to media reports. Anyone can buy heroin in sri lanka. Even prisoners get their supplies,mysteriously.
    How about an investigative report on this?

Comments are closed

CG Colombo Gazette

Photo Gallery