Push for a drug-free society

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 16 Feb 2003

The Government has vowed to use war-like strategies to rid the country of the drug menace by 2015. In this first of a two-part story on the illicit drug problem, WONG LI ZA talks to former drug abusers while DEVID RAJAH lays out the magnitude of the situation. 

THE eldest of five siblings,Hafizi Harun grew up in a strict family environment. He was also emotionally weak and easily influenced by friends.Being unhappy at home,he ran away a few times. 

At 11, he had his first puff of the cigarette. At 13, he had his first experience with drugs. 

“Heroin through needle injection was the drug of my choice. When my family found out, they rejected me and eventually threw me out. I felt very lonely and wanted to die,” recalls Hafizi who was raised in Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilan.  

He tried to quit many times, sometimes locking himself in his room so that he would not be able to get his fix. He also sought the help of bomohs but nothing helped.  

At the age of 19, after he completed his SPM, he was imprisoned for three months for illegal possession of drugs. During that time, fortunately, his mother and uncle did some research on drug rehabilitation and came to know about Persatuan Pengasih Malaysia (Pengasih), a non-governmental organisation. 

When he was released from prison, they took Hafizi straight to the centre, though it was against his will.  

“I felt that my parents did not want to take responsibility of me and thought of running away from rehab,” relates Hafizi, whose parents were civil servants.  

However, through Pengasih’s therapeutic community programme, the perils of drug addiction began to slowly dawn on him. 

“I saw many people older than me with a lot of sickness, some with their wife seeking a divorce and others who died. That made me think: ‘I’m only 19. If I continued with my habit, I’d end up like them’.”  

Hafizi fought hard and successfully overcame his dependency. His relationship with his family has improved, and he credits their support as an important part of the recovery process. 

Hafizi, now a programme manager at Pengasih, says he started to take drugs because he found it therapeutic. “It’s a form of escapism. Relapses happen because the contributing factors that led to the addiction in the first place are not solved.” 

“Addiction of any form is only a sign of the real problem because people are not born addicts,” he stresses. “They have parents or go to college, but something happens along the way that make them mix with the wrong crowd.” 

Falling into drug addiction has been attributed to, among other factors, mental stress, peer pressure, work pressure, family pressure, or just pure curiosity. 

In its latest statistics on drug abuse (for January 2002 to October 2002, as published in its website), the National Narcotics Agency put peer pressure as the reason for 3,743 new cases and 4,272 relapses. That’s 27% and 35% respectively of the total number of cases of drug abusers recorded for the 10 months of last year.  

To eliminate drug dependency, the Government has been providing treatment and rehabilitation to drug users, either in an institution (Pusat Serenti) or under supervision in the community. There are also 56 private rehab centres registered with the agency.  

Unfortunately, the relapse rate is quite significant. Between 1988 and 1996, the relapse rate was estimated to be 51%. Looking at the latest statistics, it is about 48%, although officials have been quoted as saying it is as high as 70%.  

Anna, now 44, was 18 when she began to take drugs back home in Penang. “It was something my friends all seemed to be doing,” says Anna, the youngest of four siblings. Anna was brought up by her late father who was a manager in a small firm. Her mother died when she was young. 

Anna spent the next 14 years of her life smoking heroin and popping psychotropic pills. Then one day, she came to a point where taking drugs was no longer fun. 

“I was fed-up. I stopped, cold turkey, because I was like a sick person who needed medicine all the time. I didn’t want to be like that,” she relates. 

But she suffered a relapse, and was rehabilitated at the Gospel of Salvation Mission Society’s (GOSM) centre in Kepong.  

The first day he was out of Pusat Serenti, Jon Michael, who was from Penang, was back on drugs. Michael, now 39, was imprisoned for manslaughter in 1976 and it was in prison, he says, that he was introduced to drugs. After his release, he became a courier for drugs.  

Last year, he came to Kuala Lumpur on business and met GOSM president Dr Robert Judah Paul in the streets of Chow Kit.  

Though he could not recall exactly why, Michael decided to ask Paul to take him in. Subsequently, he underwent rehabilitation and is now working as an administration staff at GOSM. He proudly says he does not even smoke now. 

“I’m very grateful to this ministry,” he says. “Stopping is very easy but it’s the daily living that’s the struggle.” 

Emphasising that something else is required beside the physical aspect of treatment, Michael says: “You have to have the Word of God. We can’t do it ourselves.” 

Hafizi, Anna and Michael are fortunate to have been able to overcome their drug dependence. But there are others, some as young as 13, who need help to kick the habit. It is hoped that the Government will find approaches that will effectively help them, besides preventing new cases of addiction. 

Next: Towards an effective rehab programme and telling youths to stay off drugs 

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