High relapse rate among addicts

PA Sri Kota in Bandar Tun Razak is one of the flats notorious for drug-related activities. — Photos: BAVANI M, YAP CHEE HONG and SAMUEL ONG

KUALA LUMPUR’s low-cost government housing schemes are hotbeds of drug addiction.

These old flats have become the hunting grounds of drug pushers, with National Anti-Drugs Agency (AADK) data revealing that high-risk areas are those with the most number in some of these areas.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, eight hotspots identified in the city were Batu, Wangsa Maju, Setiawangsa, Bandar Tun Razak, Cheras, Titiwangsa, Lembah Pantai and Seputeh.

In these areas, 53 focal points where drug addiction was concentrated were identified and these were mostly low-cost government housing schemes.

Addicts sometimes hide drugs in fire hydrant storage closets. (Right) Some of the vagrants on Kuala Lumpur streets are drug addicts.Addicts sometimes hide drugs in fire hydrant storage closets. (Right) Some of the vagrants on Kuala Lumpur streets are drug addicts.

Bandar Tun Razak had the highest number of focal points, namely at people’s housing projects (PPR) and public housing projects (PA).

Targeting focal points

The location and accessibility of these high-rise buildings have made them become transit points for drug pushers selling heroin, ganja (marijuana), amphetamines and other types of designer drugs.

AADK said 1,335 people in the city were caught for drug addiction between January and April this year.

ALSO READ: Poverty, crime fuel addiction in public housing schemes

“At least 60% of the addicts stay in the focal points where poverty, crime and drugs are prevalent,’’ said AADK deputy director-general (Operations) Datuk Dr Muhamad Sade Mohamad Amin.

“The addicts are mostly males between the ages of 19 and 40.

Some of the vagrants on Kuala Lumpur streets are drug addicts.Some of the vagrants on Kuala Lumpur streets are drug addicts.

“According to a study by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, they usually exhibit antisocial behaviour, suffer from stress or anxiety and are easily influenced by their peers,” he noted.

Due to this, Muhamad Sade said there was a demand for drugs in these hotspots and drug pushers were part of a syndicate.

“They (drug dealers) get students and youths to peddle drugs for them in their residential areas, and these youngsters will supply drugs to addicts in PPRs.

“During the height of the pandemic, pushers even used the services of delivery companies and social media to distribute drugs,” he added.

Fragile state

Firdaus (not his real name), 32, returned to his childhood home in Kuala Lumpur five years ago after undergoing drug rehabilitation at the Narcotics Addiction Rehabili-tation Centre (Puspen) in Dengkil, Selangor.

Although he managed to stay sober for a couple of years, Firdaus soon relapsed when his friends who were still living in the same flats would drop by for a chat.

They never talked about drugs, and merely chatted about the past.

But just the sounds of his friend’s motorcycle engine revving up triggered memories of the addiction and being at the place where he had previously engaged in drug activities led him to relapse.

Muhamad Sade: Relapse rate for rehabilitated individuals is around 28%.Muhamad Sade: Relapse rate for rehabilitated individuals is around 28%.

“No one put the drugs in his hands. His relapse was triggered by the people around him, the sounds and the flats acted as triggers.

“It happens all the time – even the clinking of a spoon can trigger a relapse.

“The people who engaged in those activities are also potential triggers,” said Muhamad Sade.

Targeting hotspots

In 2019, AADK embarked on a programme in the high-risk areas of Setapak and Lembah Pantai.

By the end of 2021, 94 addicts were nabbed and sent for rehab while about 55 drug pushers were arrested by the police.

Now, of the eight hotspots (see hotspot map), two areas – Setiawangsa and Lembah Pantai – were declared “green” last April.

AADK said these areas have had no recent drug arrests.

Five areas still in the red are Batu, Wangsa Maju, Titiwangsa, Seputeh and Bandar Tun Razak, while Cheras has been marked “yellow”, which means drug addiction cases are declining in focal points there.

“We have expanded the programme to Bandar Tun Razak and Cheras.

A door that leads to the top floor of a parking lot at PPR Taman Mulia is locked to prevent the space from being used for illicit activities.A door that leads to the top floor of a parking lot at PPR Taman Mulia is locked to prevent the space from being used for illicit activities.

“The indicators used to gauge progress are the number of new (addiction) cases, relapsed cases and complaints received regarding persons under supervision and (increased) community participation.

“Our strategy is to maintain the recovery rate, nip new cases in the bud and increase cooperation between government agencies, NGOs as well as communities,” said Muhamad Sade.

AADK has outlined a four-phase approach, with Phase One being “cleaning and outreach”, Phase Two on “prevention, treatment and rehabilitation”, Phase Three focuses on “enforcement and risk reduction” while Phase Four is about “monitoring, evaluation and activation of community centres”.

Treatment for those suffering from drug addiction is available at Puspen centres.

There are 30 facilities nationwide, with three in Dengkil, Sepang and Serendah in Selangor while one Puspen centre is located in Sungei Besi, Kuala Lumpur.

Treatment and rehabilitation

During AADK operations, mandatory urine tests are performed to distinguish addicts from vagrants.

“If they test negative (for drugs), we let them go.

“Those who test positive will be taken to the centres for treatment and rehabilitation,” said Muhamad Sade.

At Puspen, they receive treatment for two years, after which they will be released back to the community under strict supervision.

This supervision will continue for another three years, whereby recovering addicts will have to report for regular urine tests every two to three months as well as weekly counselling sessions.

If they fail to show up, they will be arrested and sent to jail.


What is the relapse rate?

“Unfortunately, the relapse rate for these individuals is around 28%,” said Muhamad Sade.

Based on the UKM study, the majority of relapse incidents are triggered by people or things associated with drug abuse.

“This is why we usually try to integrate recovering addicts into a new environment.

“We cannot lose hope. Some of our best motivators and recovery coaches are former addicts who are now successful people in the community,” he said.

Current data shows that AADK is treating some 50,000 people for drug addiction in its 30 centres nationwide (see states with highest drug addiction cases).

The agency has also started a mobile recovery treatment programme that currently goes to prisons to offer counselling to inmates linked to drug-related crimes.


On May 20, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin said the programme would be expanded nationwide after launching the service in Kajang.

Hamzah said based on this year’s Drug Addiction Prevalence Study, for every drug user or addict known to authorities – four others remained undetected.

“Some 123,139 drug users and addicts were detected last year, thus based on the ratio, at least 492,556 others are not receiving treatment.

Muhamad Sade added that the agency was working with schools through a programme called Sayangi Hidup Elak Derita Selamanya (Shields).

It also has an initiative called Program Intelek Asuhan Rohani (Pintar) to ensure students stay away from drugs.

“We are hoping that more people will come forward to help recovering addicts.

“Ideally, it should be 70% community and 30% government intervention.

“Now, it’s the other way around and that must change. This is why the government is offering incentives like tax exemption to companies that hire ex-addicts,” he said.

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