|SLMA And President Meet|
To Discuss Anti-Addiction Initiative
The Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) met with President Mahinda Rajapaksa on March 24 to pledge their assistance to President Rajapaska’s initiative to reduce alcoholism and drug use in the country, particularly among youth.
The SLMA, which is Sri Lanka’s national professional medical association, has its own Sub Committee on the Control of Alcohol and Drugs.
Through the sharing of this amassed experience and research, the SLMA and the president hope that they will be better equipped to combat drug and alcohol addiction. Although Sri Lanka is ahead of her neighbors in many regards, this is still a problem which requires urgent attention, and the association commended and thanked the president for his efforts.
In the words of a report released by the Department of Census and Statistics, “addiction to liquor and drugs has been identified as a serious health issue and a social menace today. It is seen as the major cause for the eroding human values in the modern society of Sri Lanka.” The rising consumption of alcohol over twenty years (from 1.81 litres to 7.37 litres per capita) paints a dire picture, one which is supported by the rising number of deaths from alcoholic liver disease (from 587 a year to 1319 a year, over a decade). According to the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre, alcohol use is one of the major risk factors for Sri Lankans, which is partially attributable to the high rates of alcoholism in the country.
The risk of drug abuse and addiction is equally problematic. There has been a twenty-fold increase (over 23 years) in the number of prisoners convicted for narcotic-related crimes in Sri Lanka, despite a 2007 vow to eliminate Sri Lankan drug abuse by 2010. With professional estimates ranging from 40 000 to 50 000 drug addicts in the country (not including cannabis users or those who are not yet addicted), eliminating this social scourge will be an uphill battle for the government and the SLMA.
There are an estimated 600,000 cannabis users and 45 000 regular heroin users in Sri Lanka, making up the bulk of the country’s drug addicts and abusers. Other drugs include cocaine, the abuse of therapeutic drugs, and addictive inhalant products. The causes of drug use and addiction vary widely, but common factors identified by the SLMA include poverty, disrupted education, and unemployment, as well as social and family problems. These factors not only encourage drug use, but are also reasons why individuals may join the illegal drug trade, particularly if it appears to offer financial and social stability they may feel unable to acquire by legal methods. Sri Lanka’s low incidence of HIV, while definitely a positive, may also make some users feel as though there will be fewer health problems associated with their heroin use. With such deep-seated social reasons for the rise of drug abuse, President Rajapaska’s initiative must have the kind of wide-ranging focus and support which SLMA’s cooperation will help to provide.
With new plans to eradicate drug and alcohol addiction by 2020, the government (and the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board) is also working to put together effective rehabilitation programs and policies. Drop-In Centres and other community-based forms of treatment are already a fixture in some regions, while correctional treatment centres are an alternative to prison for those convicted of narcotics-related crimes. Religious groups have also founded their own addiction recovery centres and programs, including those which work with Alcoholics Anonymous Sri Lanka in order to combine the efforts of several organizations.
For Sri Lankans whose friends or family members are struggling with alcohol or drug addictions, there are also a growing number of Al-Anon meetings to provide support and information.
With the SLMA pledging to provide full support and cooperation with the president’s initiative, the country may be one step closer to eradicating the problem of alcohol and drug abuse. With so many lives affected in so many ways, a solution to this scourge must be found and implemented as soon as possible. With luck, this meeting of SLMA members and the president (it was also attended by Minister of Health Maithripala Sirisena, Secretary to the Health Ministry Dr. Nihal Jayathilaka, Director General of Health Services Dr. Palitha Mahipala, and President’s chief of Staff Gamini Sedara Senarath) will forecast further, equally successful meetings.
Written By Baines