Lanka, A Narcotic TRANSIT HUB?
Sri Lankan authorities responsible for the control of narcotics are finally
admitting, albeit reluctantly, that the country is now a hotspot for trafficking
drugs. Over the years, many anti narcotic organisations have identified the
country as a transit point for drug trafficking, but the authorities have been
reluctant to fully accept the fact. However, the recent cocaine bust has put
things in perspective, says National Dangerous Drugs and Devices Control Board (NDDCB)
Chairman Dr. Ravindra Fernando.
Added to this, complaints about drugs confiscated, as evidence in drug related
offences ending up in the drug market again, has raised alarm bells within the
authorities. Investigations have finally begun to determine where the loopholes
are. Government agencies tasked with the controlling of drug trafficking and
usage in the country are also unsure of the procedures followed to destroy court
evidence, Sunday Observer learnt. While the incinerator which was set up to
destroy confiscated drugs as per international standards remains out of order,
the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) just flushes the drugs down the toilet.
How serious is Sri Lanka’s drug problem?
The NDDCB believes around 1,000 - 2,000 people become first time drug addicts
each year. According to Dr. Fernando, there are an estimated 45,000 heroin users
in the country at present, while the number of cannabis users hover around
200,000. However, according to statistics only one per cent of the country’s
total population are in fact using drugs of any kind.
“Today, there is a fear among the public that drugs and intoxicants will cause
the eventual deterioration of our society” said Jagath Wijeweera, Secretary,
Ministry of Law and Order. According to Wijeweera therefore, the government has
a special focus on drug eradication and is working towards making Sri Lankan
society free of all illicit drugs.
In recent times, the country stepped up efforts to eradicate drugs through the
control of illicit narcotics by law enforcement agencies such as the Police
Narcotic Bureau (PNB) and the Sri Lanka Customs as well as prevention by
providing education and awareness by agencies such as the NDDCB.
According to the NDDCB drug arrests increased by 1.5 per cent in 2014 compared
to the previous year, with the Police nabbing 67, 025 suspects for drug related
offences. The seizure of drugs by law enforcement agencies is one of the main
indicators used to access the level of illicit drug trafficking, they opined.
Back to the market
However, while drug busts have seen a significant increase, accusations against
various law enforcement agencies, particularly the Police have been rife, to the
effect that some of the drugs nabbed are finding its way back to the market.
Chairman NDDCB, Dr.Fernando said, his organisation too has received many
complaints in this regard. “NDDCB is looking into these allegations” he said,
adding that the Board is set to gather information from courts in this regard
and develop a proper system.
“While an incinerator was established at the Medical Faculty, University of
Colombo to destroy seized drugs, it is no longer functioning” he said, and that
they are unsure about what methods are used to destroy confiscated drugs at
The Police claim, normally, when ordered by court the confiscated drugs are
dissolved in water and flushed down the toilet. “By the time cases are concluded
the drugs have turned into hard blocks, so we have to break them down and
dissolve them” a police source who wished to remain anonymous said, adding that
generally, it is carried out within the court premises. He also claimed he is
unaware if the incinerator was ever used, while this was the accepted method of
drug disposal by law enforcement, the world over.
Dr. Fernando said Sri Lanka has now been established as a transit point for drug
trafficking, a fact the Police has been reluctant to admit. This has been proven
through the recent detection of the large haul of cocaine, while the
International Narcotic Control Board too has recognized the fact, he said. “Such
a large haul of cocaine cannot be for the Sri Lankan market which proves that
the country is a transit hub for drug trafficking,” he said.
Dr. Fernando says drugs such as, cocaine and heroin are generally smuggled in to
Sri Lanka from Pakistan, India, Myanmar and Afghanistan from where they find
their way to Europe. “Currently, we are planning to join with Asian countries to
establish a drug trafficking information centre which will help the country to
combat illicit drug trafficking”, he said. He said, Sri Lanka had good contacts
with other countries, as was seen in the recent case where Brazil too took
prompt action to nab those involved in shipping the drugs into Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has also faced difficulty in curbing the sale of various intoxicants
and drugs to schoolchildren as most of these are tobacco based.
The Director General, NDDCB, K Gamage says, that there has been no evidence of
such products having any negative effect on children. “We, through our research
have not found any negative effects of such products, however, long term use can
be a risk to one’s health due to tobacco found to cause oral cancers” he says.
“For example Hans, a tobacco based product is legal in India but awareness
campaigns are carried out due to its link to oral cancer” he says.
Usually a suspect nabbed for the sale of tobacco based drugs to schoolchildren
is released by the courts as the sale of tobacco is not illegal under existing
Sri Lankan laws. Dr. Fernando said “Therefore we are waiting for approval by the
Attorney General to implement the Anti-Tobacco and Drug Act” he says, adding
that those selling such items to children will be penalized under this law, once
According to Gamage the NDDCB carries out island wide awareness campaigns
throughout the year for schoolchildren, parents and educators which have been
very effective. He says it can be seen by the decrease in numbers of drug and
tobacco use among schoolchildren while awareness among parents has been
heightened. The NDDCB has outreach programs targeting schools and also train
teachers on identifying drugs and other such products, as well as on how to
tackle such issues among children. “We have joined hands with the Education
Ministry, with the Ministry adding a section on drug abuse in the local
syllabus, aiming at its eradication ” he said.
Currently the NDDCB operates five treatment and rehabilitation centres island
wide which provide services free of charge for drug dependents. Generally, the
treatment period is six months according to Dr. Fernando, who says the NDDCB
educates the addicts on the negative impact of drug use while also providing
them psychological support. “Unfortunately, some do relapse despite our efforts”
he says adding that the success rate of the programs is 50 per cent.
When asked as to why there is a 50 per cent relapse rate Dr. Fernando says, it
generally depends on the surroundings of the patient. “Some tend to go back to
the same environment and same friends” he says. To mitigate this issue the NDDCB
attempts to find employment for many of its clients while some are also given
vocational training during their time at the centres.
Despite all these efforts Sri Lanka still has a long way to go to combat drug
use and trafficking. According to the NDDCB Chairman a new National Policy on
Drug Eradication will be presented to the President today. The National Policy
on Drug Eradication has not been revised since 2005, he said.
“This policy therefore is a more updated version and will specify what each
government agency must do to contribute to the drug eradication effort”, he
“The policy has been drafted with the aim of making the country drug free by
2020’, he said.
NDDCB has also decided to conduct a National survey to obtain better statistics
on drug use and other related information. “Most statistics are obtained through
our research and police records as well as information from other agencies” he
“Drugs are consumed secretly, so we are unable to tell exactly how many users
are there in the country” he said, adding that the Board will have a better
picture once the survey concludes.
Recently while the Traffic Police too looked into purchasing roadside drug
detection machines to nab persons driving under the influence of drugs, the
project has currently stalled due to the cost of the machines required.
“We are looking to buy drug detection scanners which can instantaneously detect
the composition of a substance” said Dr. Fernando adding, that each machine will
cost around Rupees 1.6 M.. However, we will purchase a few of these machines in
the near future as it is much needed to combat the drug menace, he said.
“Rescue, don’t punish”
A majority of convictions in Sri Lanka are due to drug addiction, which has
caused over crowding in prisons. Correction facilities in Sri Lanka are taking
significant steps to include social welfare to support people with addiction,
instead of punishing, to minimize prison overcrowding. Commissioner of Prisons
Operations, Intelligence and Security, Thushara Upuldeniya highlighted that
“addiction is not exactly a crime, compared to other criminal activities.”
According to latest statistics available, 46% convictions are for narcotic
offences and 5% for being drunk in public places. From all the convictions, only
38% have been for other crimes. As part of the program to reduce prison over
crowding the authorities are also looking into the healthcare of the people
Many countries in the world have made the UN International day against drug
abuse and illicit trafficking a platform to talk about controlling or
eradicating drugs, but not many countries and governments pay attention to
people who use drugs, their rights, and health issues, economical and social
impact to the country. As part of the new campaign against drug abuse, the UN
has launched a new global advocacy campaign calling for better drug policies
that prioritise public health and human rights. Titled “ Support.Don’t Punish”,
the campaign aims to promote drug policy reform, and change laws and policies
which impede access to harm reduction interventions. The Campaign is trying to
raise awareness among the population aligned with the following key messages:
The drug control system is broken and in need of reform People who use drugs
should no longer be criminalized People involved in the drug trade at low
levels, especially those involved for reasons of subsistence or coercion, should
not face harsh or disproportionate punishments
The death penalty should never be imposed for drug offences Drug policy in the
next decade should focus on health and harm reduction By 2020, 10% of global
resources expended on drug policies should be invested in public health and harm
The harms caused by the war on drugs can no longer be ignored. It’s time to
leave behind harmful politics, ideology and prejudice and work towards improving
the lives of drug users as they are also human beings with dignity.
Sri Lanka, along with the rest of the world, will mark International Day against
Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking under the theme, ‘Listen First’ in a state
ceremony today presided over by President Maithripala Sirisena and other
According to the UN, under this year’s theme and the ‘Listen First’ campaign
conducted by the organization, adults are encouraged to listen to children and
youth to help them grow in a healthy and safe environment which in turn will
keep them away from illicit drug use.
The international Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking was first
declared by the United Nations on December 7, 1987. Having recognised the
negative impact of illicit drugs on the well being of humanity, while also
undermining socio economic and political stability, will seek to further
intensify the efforts to eradicate the drug menace the world over.
The state ceremony this year will importantly see the presenting of the new
National Policy on drug control to President Maithripala Sirisena which will set
out the role of each government agency in eradicating drugs within the next five
years in a bid to step up measures to curb the drug menace in Sri Lanka.