Combatting drug menace, an uphill task | Sunday Observer

Combatting drug menace, an uphill task

15 January, 2023

Alcoholic drugs, intoxicating drinks, and mind twisting beverages had been in existence from time immemorial. It is not possible to trace the birth or the history of this although the world is so advanced in science, technology and research work.

One of the five cardinal precepts preached by the Buddha says to abstain from consuming alcohol which proves to say that this menace had been prevalent from those days. Our history records reveal that some of our ancient kings also gave some kind of indigenous beverages to their fighting forces to induce more courage and bravery in combatting their enemies.

Our country was invaded by the Portuguese in 1505 and then by the Dutch in 1656 before we became a colony of the British Empire in 1815 with the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom. All these foreign nations brought in their different varieties of liquor to the country and our people also eventually got used to consume alcohol.

Our last King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe was also made an alcoholic by the British rulers. It is stated that the Britishers deliberately wanted to popularise it among the Sinhala people in order to weaken them and cripple the agriculture economy so that it would be easy for them to govern the country according to their whims and fancies.

During the colonial period they opened taverns in all main cities in the island and a substantial percentage of people patronised them irrespective of any differences. That was how the ethanol mixed beverages came into being in this country.

We regained independence from the colonial bondage in 1948 and none of our leaders wanted to limit the use of alcohol or to introduce any strict regulations since it is a revenue generating business for the national coffers.

There were a number of varieties of drugs such as opium, cannabis and related substance used in the country for the manufacture of some ayurvedic medicines while it was illegal and a punishable offence to consume to for intoxication.

However the use of cannabis and opium had been in practice from a long time ago among a marginal percentage of the people and the impact of it was not very badly felt as the numbers were very limited and negligible.

Introduction of the new economy

After the introduction of the open economic policy and the free market system in 1978, there was an influx of a myriad of things into the country. It is stated that some unscrupulous importers had started importing narcotic drugs but in very small quantities along with different types of medicinal drugs. Gradually it became a very lucrative business and no proper monitoring was done by the relevant authorities.

Lucrative international business

Narcotic drugs are money spinning international business which is second only to the arms and ammunitions trade in the world according to some international surveys. Sri Lanka has become a transit point for this illegal drug trade as it is lying in the middle of the East-West drug trafficking route of the smugglers.

It is learnt that there are drug kingpins in the country mostly in the underworld who facilitate the import and transhipment to other destinations while keeping a substantial quantity for the domestic consumption which they distribute island wide through their domestic network of dealers.

With the introduction of the open economic policy country experienced a vast change in the entire social fabric and the new generation was fully exposed to the world trends and eventually the spiritual values, social obligations, conventional norms and ethical practices were gradually deteriorated not only in the urban areas but also in the distant remote areas too.

Some critics point out that the internet and the social media have directly impacted for the current situation in the country.

Irreparable damage

The use of narcotic drugs by school children is supposed to be the biggest misfortune and the irreparable damage caused to the future generation of Sri Lankan.

Recently the Justice, Prison Affairs and Constitutional Reforms Minister Dr. Wijayadasa Rajapakshe had said that over 500 thousand youth are addicted to various narcotics. It is a huge number according to our youth population in the country. Dr. Rajapaksha also clearly said that among them are senior and even secondary level students both male and female in leading schools in Colombo and in the outstations.

It is very surprising to note that most of these children are from affluent families and some of their parents are professionals and academics who hold high positions in the Government and in the private sector. This bad habit was initially introduced by unscrupulous traders disguised as sweet sellers roaming around schools and innocent children have become the victims.

Later on investigations had revealed that not only the roaming peddlers and shops around schools but even in the school canteens run by third parties were involved in this business duping the innocent children.

However, most of the parents are unaware of bad habits of their off spring and children have become drug addicts. When the some school authorities get to know that some of their students use drugs they don’t disclose it to the relevant authorities as it reflects bad on the reputation of the school.

It is encouraging to see the present Minister of Education has taken a number of measures to wipe out the drug menace from schools which had been rapidly growing during the past few years.

Drugs such as Ice and heroin are extremely injurious to youngsters as it clouds the mind and eventually leads to terminal illnesses that snuff out the young lives within a short period.

Rehabilitation vital

Authorities should focus their attention on rehabilitation of the drug addicts specially the young students rather than imprisoning them to be mixed up with all types of criminals.

The Rehabilitation process should be properly executed under the supervision of the professional counsellors to save the valuable young lives of this ignorant and misguided youth.

There are a few rehabilitation centres in the island but according to the number of arrests, the addicts sent for rehabilitation are very low which means most of them are either warned and released or imprisoned.

Given the number of students who are addicted to drugs, the Government will have to take urgent and immediate steps to halt the dissemination of it in order to save our future generation from this catastrophe.

Deterrent punishments should be meted out on persons that sell drugs to students no sooner they are found guilty. The efforts taken by the Minister of Education and the Dangerous Drugs Control Board along with the Police are really appreciable but it is doubtful whether these efforts alone would be adequate to combat the prevailing situation as the innocent children are lured by drug barons through various tricks. There is a bigger responsibility that lies with the parents and other stakeholders in this regard.

Classroom counselling

It is important that the Education Department introduce counselling or an awareness period in the curriculum for the students above Grade 8 or so in order to educate them on the grave consequences of using drugs. Value based education is the most effective system to protect the young generation from indulging in nefarious activities. Trained teachers should be deployed to achieve the desired results.

Role of the religions

Indeed all our religions have a bounden duty at this hour of need to protect our future generation from this disastrous situation. Sunday schools conducted by all religions to guide their children on their religious principles should allocate an adequate time to educate the children on the negative effects of alcoholic drugs.

When bhikkhus, members of the clergy, Islamic and Hindu priests are involved in this exercise, the desired results could be achieved sooner.

It is very unfortunate to see that a large number of youngsters who are gainfully employed and some who are involved in artistic activities and some others who hail from affluent families with a fairly good education also have become drug addicts. They organise beach shows, operas and different types of entertainment with the participation of both male and female mainly through social media (Face- book).

Investigations had revealed that these functions go past midnight and both men and women consume different types of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, ice and cannabis.

In addition to the gradual deterioration of their health in the long run, they are involved in different types of nefarious activities such as sexual abuse, fisticuffs that leads to serious violence and unfortunate road accidents while driving.

Law enforcement authorities should apprehend these organised groups and mete out deterrent punishments to mitigate these activities.

Arduous task

Drug trafficking is an international business and it is not possible for an island nation like ours to completely halt this with the limited resources available with us. The Navy and Coast Guard are eternally engaged in surveillance activities throughout our territorial waters and they have achieved major drug hauls during the past few months.

Our links with international intelligence agencies has to be intensified in order to nab drug traffickers. Novel methods, trained staff and sophisticated equipment have to be provided to the drug prevention authorities to carry out their duties successfully.

Political blessings

It is the general belief that some influential politicians are also either directly or indirectly supporting big time drug dealers to continue their business without any hindrance.

To compensate the politicians these drug lords spend lavishly at election campaigns and sometimes their entire political campaigns are financed by these goons with men and material freely available for them. It is heard that some candidates provide any kind of narcotics to their supporters in addition to food and subsistence which are abundantly supplied to the politicians by the drug kingpins who are protected by them.

It is very shocking and surprising to see the adamant effort being made by SJB parliamentarian State Minister of Tourism Diana Gamage amidst severe objections from various parties to legalise the cultivation of cannabis mainly for export purposes.

No one can deny the amount of foreign exchange it could bring in but if the Government gives the green light it will have to formulate a very strict regulatory frame work to prevent the cultivators from flooding the local market with their produce. It will have to be followed by constant monitoring and surveillance of the law enforcement authorities.

It has been observed that once in a way some Government officials are also involved in narcotics smuggling. Not so long ago several sleuths from the Police Narcotic Bureau (PNB) were arrested over suspected links with drug dealers.

At the same time several jailors were also found to be linked to this ring where the drug lords carry out their narcotics deals from their prison cells. Common belief is that the drug dealer network has spread in many parts of the country and the area leaders have established very cordial relationships with the area Police OICs in order to continue their business smoothly.

It should be the duty of the authorities to impose the maximum punishment on these errant officials to eliminate corruption in State institutions.

Drastic measures vital

Some countries impose the capital punishment on drug abusers.

If the law enforcement authorities are seriously interested in wiping out the drug menace in Sri Lanka, we also should introduce and implement the severest punishments on drug dealers, peddlers, users, promoters and even the facilitators.