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 Post subject: Drug addicts of Lanka
 Post Posted: Sun Jul 17, 2005 1:54 am 

By Heshan Priyatilake
Sunday Times - 17JUL2005

Soma Silva (name changed) is not your average 32-year-old Sri Lankan mother. She single-handedly manages to look after her five children – with her husband, a drug addict, being in jail. How could she possibly cope?

Ms. Silva earns a monthly income of Rs. 20,000. Not from a government job or from working in a garment factory. Known as ‘Kudu Menike’, she is a small time drug dealer while her evenings are spent not with her children, but selling her body. Ms. Silva is from a Moratuwa slum where cheap board houses shake even when three wheelers pass by. The canal nearby is a mobile body of rotting sewage and floating rubbish. Its static banks serve as an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. The 15,000 inhabitants of this community are poor, and the majority have no mission in life, no purpose. Like a balloon, they drift aimlessly.

Girls as young as 14 are already mothers in this small community. Their husbands are drug addicts. Their parents are drug addicts. The girls themselves are drug addicts. Whom can children in this community look up to as role models? What education can be of use when they have nothing to work for, no hope? Where do these children turn to for comfort? These are all but empty questions whose answers are tangled in a vicious circle. Lack of education, lack of opportunity and above all, the lack of a vision for a better tomorrow lead the community into a black hole of endless nothing. These people, however, believe they have found the answer to their problems in heroin.

According to the Sri Lanka Anti Narcotics Association Programme Coordinator R.K.P Rajapakse, a shocking percentage of the inhabitants in that little village community in Moratuwa are heroin addicts (see box).

So what is it about heroin that lures them? At about Rs. 100 a dose, it’s far from cheap for the people in this community. Yet some sniff as many as 10 doses a day. Where do they get the money for all this? The majority are unemployed, so have turned to a life of crime.

Look now at the scene at one of the many popular night clubs in Colombo. Throngs of young people, rush into the club – for a night of fun, drinks and laughter that will last them till the early hours of the morning. These youngsters come from a totally different background compared to those from that little community in Moratuwa. They are from affluent families and are educated in the best schools in Colombo.

Inside the club, bathed in neon lights and the thick veil of cigarette smoke, many of these ‘rich kids’, some as young as 13, sip cocktails and smoke expensive cigars.

For the majority of these young party-goers, this is purely a weekend outing with friends, but there’s a small percentage of youth who are addicted to certain other aspects of club life – alcohol, cigarettes and drugs.

Clubbing is a widely misunderstood concept amongst Sri Lankans. In fact, the majority of party- goers have a good time without consuming anything other than a Coca Cola. Others enjoy a few drinks without letting it get out of control. But a small group turns to more serious substances varying from marijuana to cocaine. The alarming fact, however is that this group appears to be growing.

What makes youth from wealthy families turn to drugs? They have the best of education and everything to look forward to in the future- university, jobs and a stable future. They have what the youngsters in that little community in Moratuwa cannot even dream of.

But one thing remains the same: young minds, whether from a village in Moratuwa or from Colombo 7, are easily influenced. People are always on the look out for something different. What starts off with alcohol can turn to drugs such as crack cocaine, marijuana and the like.

Many children from a wealthy background are from families whose parents have no time for them. Their parents are busy attending to their own affairs and improving financial and social status. With family togetherness that forms the key to happy relationships lacking, these young people have no one to turn to. Often, parents are blind to the fact that although the child may have all material comforts, the spiritual food that comes first from their homes, their families, their parents and which they need to become well-rounded and responsible citizens, is missing.

About 0.3% of the Sri Lankan population is in drug rehabilitation camps. What of those still at large in society? How many more Soma Silvas exist and how many youngsters both from poor and rich backgrounds will be trapped in this vicious cycle before society wakes up?

Dangerous hits

Heroin, a white powder in its pure form, is Sri Lanka's most widely abused hard drug. Produced from opium poppies, heroin may also vary from white to dark brown because of impurities.

Its fumes induce a surge of euphoria. It suppresses the nervous system, and can kill in doses large enough. Within 10 seconds of inhalation, the user feels happiness. An intense high accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin and a dry mouth. Following this initial euphoria, the user goes "on the nod," an alternately wakeful and drowsy state. Mental functioning becomes clouded due to the depression of the central nervous system. Long-term effects of heroin appear after repeated use for some period of time. Chronic users may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves and liver disease.

Drug addicts spend as much as Rs. 1000 or more a day on heroin. The Western Province is the largest stronghold of heroin, with areas such as Dematagoda, Orugodawatte and Wanathamulla being especially notorious.


Usually called ganja in Sri Lanka, marijuana is the most widely used illegal substance in the world today. Its use is also the most controversial due to its increasing use in the medical field, and legalization efforts underway.

Within a few minutes after inhaling marijuana smoke, an individual's heart begins beating more rapidly, the bronchial passages relax and become enlarged, and blood vessels in the eyes expand, making the eyes look red. The heart rate, normally 70 to 80 beats per minute, may increase up to 130 beats per minute.

Smoking marijuana "joints" may increase the risk of cancer more than smoking tobacco. Marijuana smoke contains 60% more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke.

Short term effects of marijuana use include impaired short-term memory, impaired concentration, attention and judgment; impaired coordination and balance, increased heart rate, bloodshot or red eyes, dry mouth and increased appetite.

Long term effects include psychological addiction, paranoia, persistent anxiety, impaired learning skills and memory difficulties.


Another illegal drug, the popularity of which seems to be growing at a menacing pace in Sri Lanka, MDMA, also referred to as Ecstasy, XTC, Adam and Essence, is considered a designer drug - a substance on the drug market that is a chemical analogue or variation of another psychoactive drug.

Users say it produces profoundly positive feelings, empathy for others, elimination of anxiety, and extreme relaxation. MDMA is also said to suppress the need to eat, drink or sleep, enabling club scene users to endure all-night and sometimes two or three-day parties.

MDMA is taken orally, usually in tablet or capsule form. MDMA tablets are often "stamped" with icons or logos intended to appeal to a young audience. Its effects last around four to six hours.

When used alone, MDMA is dangerous enough. It is even more dangerous when used in combination with other substances, as the physical and psychological effects are difficult to determine or predict.

An Ecstasy tablet costs between Rs 25 and 150, depending on the quality and these are often sold in small pharmacies along with regular drugs.

Crack cocaine

Because crack is smoked, the user experiences a high in less than 10 seconds. This immediate and euphoric effect is one of the reasons that crack became enormously popular in the mid-1980s. Another reason is that crack is inexpensive both to produce and to buy.

General effects of smoking crack include constricted blood vessels and increased temperature, heart rate and blood pressure, restlessness, irritability, anxiety, and with long term use, violence and paranoia. Additionally smoking crack causes respiratory problems such as shortness of breath, chest pains, lung trauma and bleeding. Drugs such as cocaine are brought into the country by tourists on holiday

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