Crushing the Villain | Sunday Observer
Long and steady march towards “A drug-free Sri Lanka”

Crushing the Villain

16 January, 2022

Winning the ‘war’ against illicit drugs is as difficult as or perhaps much more difficult than winning a battle against terrorism!

It is certainly no easy task to break global drug-trafficking networks or the well-connected groups that control the illicit drug trade. Drugs won’t spare an individual big or small, a family, a country, or an entire globe. The economic and social consequences of illicit drug use and trafficking are widespread causing physical and mental damage to those who are addicted, breaking family ties, increasing health hazards, weakening the productivity of the labour force thus finally impairing the economic growth of the country.

Just like many other countries, Sri Lanka has been fighting a tough war against drugs for decades. The well-connected drug mafia has been devouring our youth and even schoolchildren. Today it is heartening to note how the Government is fully dedicated to creating a country free of illicit drugs under the guidance of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as stated in his National Policy Framework, ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour.”

President Rajapaksa’s Manifesto has clearly stated that his Government will take all steps to eradicate the drug menace that had been devouring our youth impairing the social, economic, and cultural wellbeing of the country.

“Apart from ensuring national security, we will protect our country from international threats including threats emanating from cyberspace. We will ensure food security, and guarantee that the country is free from drug trafficking, money laundering, and other such illegal activities that presently plague this country,” states the Manifesto.

With massive drug raiding operations launched by Tri Forces and The Police, and islandwide drug rehab programs in place, under the National Policy Framework, Sri Lanka is steadily marching its way towards a drug-free country.

Sri Lanka is a signatory to all three UN Conventions on drug abuse and trafficking; Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961, Convention on Psychotropic Substances 1971, and United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances 1988.

Psychological factors

Helping someone struggling with addiction is as important as preventing another from falling victim to drug abuse. Why do people get addicted to drugs? Are addictions psychological?, the Sunday Observer asked Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry, Consultant Psychiatrist, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Sri Jayewardenepura Dr. Jayamal De Silva.

“All addictions are psychological. There is a physical component only in substance use addictions such as tobacco and alcohol. The internet addiction has nothing physical (a substance as such) to get things physical. The term addiction automatically denotes disorder. The term is used loosely by laypeople to describe a situation where they are more frequently preoccupied with an act or phenomenon. But addiction in medicine generally means dependence in which the person concerned find it difficult to keep away from the substance or behaviour, there is a lack of control over it once started, seeks drug or experience despite the costs, increasingly elevate the indulgence level to derive the same experience and develops a withdrawal syndrome when not using them,” he said.


Dr. De Silva said that factors contributing to addictions include initiation to such. The availability, accessibility, and positive impression on substances lead to taking up the behaviour. The positive environment for such addictions is created, developed, and maintained by the forces which profit from them. For example, initiation to cannabis is facilitated by the positive image created by the tobacco industry which globally owns the cannabis business. Even before using cannabis for the first time, the young person is made to ‘’expect” and anticipate a positive outcome of the smoke. This leads to behavioural addiction and then physical addiction in heavy regular users later.

Psychological disorder

“The use of a substance becomes a psychological disorder when it has progressed to fulfill the criteria for dependence. And usually, these people would have had some physical and psychological complications of drug use developed by then. Otherwise, most users would not qualify to be labeled as addicts,” he said.

In any society, disadvantaged people are more prone to be the target of industries irrespective of their age.

“The least fortunate children in the society who do not get a chance to finish their schooling are getting addicted more to, for example, tobacco, compared to their more fortunate counterparts. They are the victims of propaganda when it comes to both legal and illegal drug industries, and the lack of education and opportunity, as well as the presence of drugs in their immediate environment, make them more prone to get addicted,” Dr.De Silva added.

According to Dr.De Silva when it comes to hard drugs such as heroin, almost all users would start with a more acceptable legal drug, which we label as gateway drugs. Cigarettes and beer are the most important gateway drugs. Having a disadvantaged life would lead to the take-up of these gateway drugs first and then hard drugs.

“If there were no drug promoting culture or industry, we would not see even disadvantaged persons getting addicted,” he added.

Sociological view

Professor Emeritus in Sociology of Peradeniya University Kalinga Tudor Silva opined that sociologists prefer to call it substance abuse.

“This is because the term drug addiction and related terms such as addict and their vernacular usages like ‘Kudukaraya’ or simply ‘Kudda’ in Sinhala can be derogatory and result in stigmatisation and blaming the victim.,” Prof. Silva said.

It is widely accepted that drug abuse and addiction have a multifactorial etiology. Most sociological accounts analyse the role and implications of the social factors in the initiation and continuation of drug consumption, abuse, and addiction, emphasising the importance of the family, peer groups, and living environment. Many studies acknowledge that a thorough knowledge of the causes of drug abuse and addiction allow the creation of effective intervention methods in this field, he said.

Prof. Silva also said that often drug use develops over time, starting with the consumption of alcohol and smoking, to continue with marijuana and other illicit drugs, the patterns, and levels being sketched by different social and psychological factors. Drug abuse and addiction hold a multi-factorial etiology; socio-cultural factors usually burden on individual factors (genetic and behavioural) that predispose to consumption of drugs, the influence of the first being variable depending on development stages. For example, peer influence is extremely important in the late stages of adolescence.

Social factors

“According to the sociological view, the social factors that predispose and influence drug consumption, abuse, and addiction can be divided into two broad categories: micro-social (individual) and macro-social. Micro-social includes individual marginalisation, ego-identity discomfort, and an identity crisis about oneself. Macro-social factors can range from social marginalisation, identification with a drug subcultural group to perceived economic, educational, and social disadvantage,” he said.

Social responsibility

Peer groups and family can play a critically important role in addiction as well as in prevention and rehabilitation.

“For instance, if parents themselves are addicted or worse still make a living from drug trafficking or sale, this can be an important trigger for children to follow in the footsteps of the family. Peer groups often play a role in introduction of substances to adolescents and youth and the continuation of the addiction. It is important that the affected families try to understand the problem and do everything possible to wean the relevant individuals away from addiction by seeking effective care and supporting them through the process,” Prof. Silva said.

The veteran Sociologist also came up with his solutions to protect society from deadly drugs.

“In responding to this crisis there is a useful role those different institutions should play in raising public awareness, develop a non-judgmental and non-discriminatory attitude towards addiction and identify and implement enlightened social policies and interventions for prevention, care, and rehabilitation. This includes family, school system and religious institutions as well as the Police, health authorities, correctional institutions as well as the media.”

As he highlighted, an evidence-based approach is needed to assess various programs and interventions. According to him, this is where research and critical assessment of the information available is needed and identification of gaps in available knowledge must be established and pursued by competent persons.

Overcoming drug abuse

Bad habits must be nipped in the bud and good practices need to be adhered to. As Prof.Silva said it is mandatory to identify one’s life skills in all areas including communication, interests, sports, interpersonal relations, and decision making

“Carefully select your peers and if you come to know of anyone who is experimenting with substances advise him to seek help from relevant caregivers. It is important to realise that most people become addicted to substances without themselves knowing it initially. This is why it is important to avoid any kind of experimentation with addictive substances. Try to recognise and withstand any kind of peer pressure for compliance with unsafe practices. Also learn to cope satisfactorily with disappointments in life, failures, and setbacks. Every disappointment must be identified as a useful lesson in life that helps you to become a stronger person and make the right choices,” he said.

While commending the Government’s commitment to eradicate the drug menace, Prof.Silva added that a critical assessment of ongoing programs must be made to establish what works, what does not and determine how the current programs can be made more effective.

“While effective laws are needed, law enforcement alone cannot address all aspects of this multi-faceted problem. The state should also identify and encourage effective engagements by civil society, including faith-based organisations in working with affected communities and helping affected families to deal with the problem.”

He emphasised that effort must be made to secure professional inputs from all parties concerned. Besides legal experts and law enforcement specialists, it is essential that the state and civil society secure professional inputs from psychologists, counsellors, social workers, and a whole array of creative artists in developing the right approach to respond to this national crisis.

NDDCB’s role

The National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB) Chairperson Dr. Priyangi Amarabandu said everything including formulating and reviewing National Policy to individual rehabilitation programs is already in place to combat drug menace from the soils of Sri Lanka.

NDDCB which operates under the purview of the Defence Ministry is committed to eradicating the drug menace. Just as the Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne stated recently the Board plays a commendable role towards achieving its mission through implementing evidence-based drug prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation programs.

“NDDCB which was established by the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board Act No.11 of 1984, is the principal national institution charged with the formulation and review of a National policy relating to the prevention, control treatment, and rehabilitation of drug abuse. This Board is the pioneer Government Institution that discharges its functions to eradicate drug menace from Sri Lanka,” Dr. Amarabandu said.

NDDCB’s responsibilities are articulating and advocating evidence–based policies and strategies, catalysing change and enhancing partnerships, managing information, conducting research, setting and Validating norms and standards, and developing and testing new technologies, tools and guidelines.

Dr. Amarabadu elaborated on NDDCB’s scope and role in rehabilitating the drug addicts.

Legal provisions

“Legal provisions have been enacted to provide treatment and rehabilitation services for drug-dependent persons in terms of the Treatment and Rehabilitation Act, No. 54 of 2007. The Act provides for the necessary legal provisions for voluntary admission to treatment services and compulsory treatment and rehabilitation as an alternative to imprisonment.”

As the National institution that is empowered with formulating and reviewing the National Policy on drugs, the NDDCB assists the Government to incorporate the law in this field which is very important to combat illicit traffic in Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances, and Precursor chemicals.

The NDDCB is also entrusted with the responsibility of assisting the Government and advising the Government regarding amending of existing laws, incorporation of new laws, and implementation of National Drug Policy.

Rehabilitation and treatment

According to Dr. Amarabandu in 2020, 1649 drug addicts had received treatment and 740 (45 percent) of them had been reported from the treatment centres of NDDCB, 104 (11percent) from the prison treatment program, 226 (14 percent) from NGOs, and 449 (30 percent) from Kandakadu Treatment and Rehabilitation Center that comes under the Bureau of the Commissioner-General of Rehabilitation. 40 percent of those who had been seeking treatment and rehabilitation belonged to the age category 30 or above.

However, the chairperson added that treatment admissions have decreased by 54.3 percent during the year 2020 when compared to 2019 due to the pandemic and travel restrictions.


“Lack of sufficient capacity to provide treatment and rehabilitation services to drug addicts has been identified as a major challenge,” she said.

Addressing the necessity, NDDCB has already initiated a treatment building construction project to increase the treatment capacity to1000 patients at the “Navadiganthaya” treatment and rehabilitation centre at Nittambuwa. The Board has also launched a mobile phone application called “Drug-free Sri Lanka” to get the necessary information on prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation services. More details of 1927 Telephone Counselling Service facebook page, YouTube Channel, District level prevention and outreach officers, information on treatment centres and psychiatric clinics can be obtained through this mobile application.

Other charities

There are other Government-approved charities and Bodies as well that are ready to lend a helping hand to those who need assistance and extra care.

Chairperson of Sri Lanka Sumithrayo, Kumudini De Silva said that her charity befriends anyone who is going through distress and despair.

“In a case of substance addiction/ abuse, we do the same thing. We welcome them warmly and praise them for reaching out for help. It’s a very good sign that they want to break or get out of this. So we discuss anything and everything that they have gone through from their childhood up to the time they come seeking help from us. “

According to De Silva what Sri Lanka Sumithrayo does is to give them unconditional acceptance and non-critical, non-judgemental listening and assure them of confidentiality.

”We don’t have any time limits. They can talk to us until they feel they are relieved. We discuss with them what they can do to not act on their impulses and urge and help them to devise a plan. We also discuss with their guardians, if they come with them, on how to support them in their journey back to normalcy.” She added.


When an entire nation is wholeheartedly committed to protecting the youth, it is all up to you to correct your major mistakes and face the future as an individual who loves and gives importance to one’s own self without falling prey to illusions.

Dr. Jayamal De Silva has solid advice to offer in this regard.

“Just give it up. Most young, and old for that matter, users give up any addiction on their own without any external help. When the users realise that they had been taken for a ride, they would give this up.”

“Prof Simon Chapman from the University of Sydney, Australia found out in his research that more than 60 -70% of smokers don’t even see their GP for counselling or treatment,” he added.

This would be applicable to any other addiction as well.

Dr. De Siva invites the youth to look for real scientific evidence behind the substance that they use.

“It is almost 100 percent guaranteed that they would not find the truth by surfing the internet through various search engines as these are also a part of the industry. For example, the smokers have a higher level of stress due to smoking per se contrary to the myth they are made to believe, which is smokers smoke due to stress!” Dr. De Silva concluded.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” So Never give up, just as the Japanese Proverb goes “Fall seven times, stand up eight.”