The Sunday TimesPlus

7th July 1996




Drugs: A Queen for the cause

by Tharuka Dissanaike

How serious is Lanka's drug problem? At present Sri Lanka has an estimated 100,000 heroin addicts. The official government figure of 50,000 ( which has remained constant for the past ten years) is being challenged not only by the NGOs involved in drug prevention but also by government institutions themselves. This means that the estimated number of drug addicts has doubled during the past decade.

The high incidence of drug related crime and arrests of drug peddlers and smugglers too point to the fact that the problem is ever on the increase. Recent newspaper reports indicate that the drug business in Sri Lanka is becoming ever more organized - court bail for offenders is being paid by cartel leaders through organized gangs.

According to the Police Narcotic Bureau the number of arrests too increased dramatically in the first few months of this year. While the number of drug related arrests for the first five months of 1995 was 1,903, the number of similar offenses rose to 2713. Up to mid May this year, 8.86kg of heroin was confiscated by the Customs, Police and Excise Departments.

One single major detection was done by the Customs at the airport where several Pakistani nationals were attempting to smuggle in 13.89 kg of heroin. The amount of heroin detected for the same period last year was only 15.4 kg. Heroin, however, is not the only dangerous drug available in Sri Lanka. Other drugs like ganja (cannabis), opium and even cocaine are available. But the problem of severe narcotic dependence and criminal activity is linked to heroin addiction.

Heroin is the drug of choice in Sri Lanka today. Analysis of those who turn up at treatment centres and referral programmes show that the age range of addicts generally falls in the 19-30 age category. This is the most productive age group in a country. But there are reports of children as young as nine years trying out heroin. A large portion of addicts are men, but the habit is spreading increasingly among women in the streets and slums, who are involved in weighing, wrapping and sometimes distributing the drugs in little packets.

According to the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB) the street value of a "packet" ( usually 10-15 mg) of heroin is Rs. 50. This is usually heroin diluted with other substances to increase volume. Most smoke the drug or inhale it, few inject it into their bodies.

Every year the government spends colossal amounts of money in trying to rehabilitate drug addicts. To cure a single addict of dependence the country spends some Rs.100,000 . There are four government rehabilitation centres and few in the private sector. But according to Project Director at NDDCB Y. Ratnayake, nearly 80 percent go back to the habit.

The country spends dearly for its drug addicts. The number of criminal offenses done under the influence of-or in order to obtain - drugs and the money spent on rehabilitation is indeed great. Organizations espousing the "Drug-free nation" cause often believe that prevention is certainly better than cure when it comes to drug addiction. To make the younger generations aware of the evils of drug dependence and the harm it does to your body and mind, your family and society is seen as the best way to a gradual eradication of the narcotic problem.

The Sri Lanka Anti Narcotic Association (SLANA) has been in the forefront in the fight against drug addiction since its inception in 1987. SLANA was the first institution to carry out comprehensive public awareness campaigns, disseminating information about dangerous drugs and addiction among the general public.

The Association was set up by several private individuals and organizations realizing the grave need for awareness generation in the country. It still operates as a private sector organization which carries out educational programmes and maintains a referral system where addicts or their families could report and be directed towards help. SLANA is not directly involved in rehabilitation of addicts, but those who come to their Kinsey Road office seeking help are guided to rehabilitation centres.

SLANA works mainly with schools, since the aim of their programmes is to create a drug free generation. They conduct programmes for Girl Guides, school teachers, principals and students all over the country. Mass media campaigns- television, radio, posters and newspapers are also used to spread a "stay-off drugs " message. Seven years ago SLANA initiated its first national health run.

"At that time we could not find people to sponsor even a few certificates", said SLANA Director, Dharshinie Guniyagoda. But the extent of awareness raised in the process is evident today, for this year's run to be held at the Galle Face Green next Sunday July 14 is heavily sponsored by private sector companies. For the second consecutive year the run is being flagged off by a reigning Miss World, this time Venezuelan beauty Jacqueline Aguilera whose presence will certainly help focus attention on this worthy cause.

More than 3000 participants are expected to take part in the run. They will include children barely in school to grandparents in their 70s . This year there will be a special wheel chair event for disabled participants. All participants and onlookers at Galle Face on July 14 will by their very presence at this event denounce drug addiction and help towards creating a drug free generation.

"Our hope is to model the run along the lines of the Boston marathon where disabled competitors vie enthusiastically in sophisticated wheel chairs," SLANA Director, Kumar Nadesan said. The run, as in other years will take off from the Galle Face Green, proceed through Fort to Bauddhaloka Mawatha and back.

The open event covers 14 km approximately, while the disabled and children's events cover 5 km and 7 km respectively. The success of these health runs is quite obvious, SLANA says. "After we began conducting the run, there are many more requests for programmes from schools and organizations. The support we receive from the private sector has increased year by year. The extent of community mobilization that we have been able to achieve through the run is very satisfactory," Ms. Guniyagoda, said.

The presence of Miss World 1996, Jacqueline Aguilera will indeed give a great boost to the run. The beautiful 19-year-old will flag off the run at 7.30 a.m. and tour the route of the run in a car . She will be back at Galle Face Green for the distribution of prizes.

Her visit to Sri Lanka will be exclusively sponsored by E.A.P. Edirisinghe Group of Companies. The group's assistance to the drug cause will not end there. According to Group Marketing Director, Mahen Perera they are already in the process of developing some television programmes to spread anti-drug propaganda.

"It is a very worthwhile cause. We are not interested in simply doing business- but also taking care of our social obligations and responsibilities," he said.

New Zealand Milk Products (Pvt.) Ltd. importers and distributors of Raththi Full Cream Milk have also come forward to sponsor the run- which includes the prizes for winners, certificates for all participants who complete the race, publicity posters etc. The company is at present considering extending their co operation further towards the drug cause by funding some part of SLANA day to day activities.

The Police Narcotic Bureau and the Rotary Club of Colombo West are co-sponsors of the run. Motorists are advised by the Colombo Traffic Police to avoid the drug run route on for July 14..

All participants who have registered at SLANA head quarters at 121, Kinsey Road Colombo 8 , for the run are asked to report to SLANA on 11, 12 and 13 July to collect their running numbers.

Even those less inclined to run a gruelling 14 km are invited to be present at Galle Face and show support to this worthy cause. Amateur performers are invited to keep crowds, including the lovely Miss World entertained. Strength in numbers to "Say No to Drugs. See you there.

Beauty's Duty

by Tharuka Dissanaike

Stunning Venezuelan beauty, Jacqueline Aguilera, the reigning Miss World arrives in Sri Lanka on Friday.

Saturday July 14, will be a big day for little Sachini Anuradha.S The chubby faced four- year- old girl will be in the forefront when Miss World 1996 visits her orphanage at Attidiya.

Sachini, the youngest orphan at Sri Yasodara Devi Balika home, will greet Miss World with a bouquet of flowers, and undoubtedly, it will be a precious memory for Sachini to cherish in years to come- the day when she received the most beautiful woman in the world.

Stunning Venezuelan beauty, Jacqueline Aguilera, the reigning Miss World arrives in Sri Lanka on Friday. Adjudged the best among contestants at the Miss World '95 pageant at Sun City last November, Jacqueline, is a 19 year old student of industrial relations in Venezuela.

Her visit is exclusively sponsored by the E.A.P. Edirisinghe Group of companies. Jacqueline will arrive in Sri Lanka in the wee hours of July 12 on a special Air Lanka flight from her present base in London. Her arrival at the Bandaranaike International Airport is scheduled for 5.40 a.m. From the airport she will travel by a BMW car - which is the official car for her visit. Hotel Lanka Oberoi, the official Hotel, will roll out the red carpet and have a welcome reception for the beauty at 7 a.m.

Later that day, at 3 p.m to be exact, Jacqueline will meet journalists at a press conference at Hotel Oberoi . She will speak through an interpreter since her native tongue is Spanish. Thereafter the beauty queen will be hosted to tea by the Media Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake.

The next morning ( July 13) will be spent among orphaned children at two homes for girls in Colombo suburbs. The Rotary clubs of Colombo East and West, who are co- organisers of the event have decided on the Yasodara Devi Balika Niwasa in Attidiya and Sal Sevana, a newly built home for girls displaced due to the North East war. Her visit to the homes will be followed by aid packages to both homes from the sponsors- E.A.P. Edirisinghe Group.

Sal Sevana at Mattegoda will be declared open by Miss World on June 13. The home can very comfortably provide for 25-30 children. It was built on land donated by the Lions Club and the funds for the building and the project came from donors in Belgium Mr. and Mrs J.L.Van Dijck and Mr. and Mrs. K.S. Moortgat through the Sri Lanka Belgium Friendship Association and its counterpart in Belgium. The project will be managed by the Rotary Colombo West and the Lions. Already 25 children from camps in border villages have been chosen as well as a qualified and experienced matron.

At noon that Saturday, Jacqueline will visit the Swarnamahal Jewellery store at Galle Road, Kollupitiya. She will wear exclusive Swarna Mahal jewellery during her visit. The store will put out a range of jewellery after her visit to commemorate the event. This range will include exquisite diamond studded necklaces, chunky eastern-looking chokers, simple and dainty sapphire and ruby studded jewellery priced in the range of Rs. 20000 upwards. As the official jeweller, SwarnaMahal will present Miss World with several items from their jewellery range at the end of her visit.

That night, Jacqueline will be chief guest at the Dinner Dance for the installation of the new President of the Rotary Club of Colombo East. Sunday (July 14) morning, the beauty queen will don her running shoes (not literally) to flag off the seventh National Health Run of SLANA. To show her support for the cause of creating a drug free younger generation, she will accompany the runners along the route in a car.

A luncheon will be organized by the Rotary Club of Colombo West for the installation of Rotarian Janaka Edirisinghe as President. Members of SLANA too will also participate in this function. A private farewell dinner for the departing beauty will be hosted by the sponsors that night. On Monday (15) Jacqueline will depart- flying Air Lanka back to London.

Who would believe?

By Roshan Peiris

Superstitions are powerful. Sometimes even the educated believe in them. But what about professionals like surgeons and physicians?

The late Dr. R.L. Brohier who brought the jungles to the urban population with his writings has a chapter in one of his books titled 'Superstitions'. There he writes of the many superstitions that dominate the life of the village folk and often the city dwellers as well.

Among those I recall, he says, one never leaves the house if the ubiquitous gecko makes his screeching noise. It is considered bad to venture out - to do so is looking for trouble.

If the chameleon like lizard crosses your path when setting out on a journey it is considered inauspicious and most people either desist going out at all or venture out after a long interval. To see a beggar or a cat when leaving home is also considered inauspicious and also to dream that one has died.

If you see a single priest or a garden sparrow, 'one for sorrow is the verdict'. If a crow flies in to a house it is considered a very bad omen.

While these are the commonest beliefs, what about doctors and surgeons. Do they believe in superstitions. As we all know in their capable hands depends the life of many a man, woman or child.

That well known surgeon Dr. K, Yoheshwaran who saved the late Lalith Athulathmudali's life after the Parliamentary bomb blast said, "It is not in the category of superstitions but in many intricate operations I do spend a few minutes praying before I use the scalpel on a patient. It is a very solemn occasion and just before beginning the operation often there is a pin drop silence. I believe all present in their own fashion do say a prayer for the patient.

"I am not at all familiar with the Hindu calendar. I know there is navamin, dashami etc. which days are believed to be bad for doing anything big. But I don't know about these and a surgeon does not have much of a choice if it is an emergency operation. The patient's family often choose what they consider a good day and time for a major operation and ask me to schedule it in that way.

"Yes I know I have heard of this myth that a patient bleeds less if operated in the morning or night. Actually some doctors in government service operate early in the morning because they have to report for work by 8 O'clock.

In the night doctors choose to operate because circulation is then much slower."

"I pray," said one of Sri Lanka's most skilled surgeons today who extracted a promise that I don't use his name. He said, "I am a Christian and I do pray but I make it clear it is to give me poise and strength and not because praying could be considered a superstition. I do operate on poya days, the so-called 'bara davas' and I even operate on the 13th unless the family of the patient believes in the superstition that 13 is unlucky. That is only if the operation is not urgent.

Dr. Siva Chinnatamby of family planning fame said she prays and asks the others in her team to pray before an operation. "I pray to God to help me successfully carry out my operation. It is my faith in God rather than superstition. I know it is considered inauspicious to see a cat when leaving for work unless it happens to be a black cat. I don't really pay much heed to this but deep down, one must confess sometimes to having trepidations. Of course before a Caesarean I listen to what the family has to say. They often don't want a child to be born on an inauspicious day or a bad day. That is only if the operation can wait and postponement won't affect the life of the mother and baby. We also meticulousy clock the time of the birth for on it depends the horoscope, how it is cast and the future prowess of the child. That is of course a much vaunted Asian superstition.

Dr. Sheriffdeen who heads the team of devoted and dedicated doctors who undertake kidney transplants and other such sensitive operations of the kidney said: "I have no time to consider the very many superstitions. Of course I think of Allah and pray for His guidance and help and prayer by no means is a superstition. I don't look for so-called good days and bad days. I just operate as scheduled."

Dr. Ananda Soysa, the ENT surgeon says, he too offers a silent prayer. "I don't really know to whom I appeal - it is really the Devas, I think. Silence also gives one anyway a sober moment before operating on a patient's ear, nose or throat. I believed in not seeing beggars, cats and the like when setting off to work when I was a young surgeon. Today I believe all depends on skill and dexterity rather than on good omens and bad."

Dr. P.R. Anthonis, the doyen among Sri Lanka's skilful surgeons is not superstitious. I operate even on Vesak day considered to be a day that is 'bara davasa' - a heavy day. If there is acute appendicitis, I cannot refuse to operate just because the day is bad. If I do it the patient won't remain alive. I do operate at night because the circulation is less brisk. I operate at any time, night, early morning or during the day. I don't have time to pray - I depend on myself. I am the boss to do all within my power for the patient who has entrusted his or her life to me. In surgery the luxury of indulging in superstition is out, often it is a matter of fighting against time for the life of the patient".

Most people though they may appear to be outwardly unimpressed about good times, bad times, inauspicious days and auspicious days, do have some belief in them. Some tie threads at kovils and temples, others light candles. Behind it all is the appeal to an unknown power for help during periods of trial and travail.

Surgeons may by and large be impatient with superstitions since their mind is set on operating and saving the life of the patient. But in Asian countries even the most rational person I think does have a sneaking belief in superstitions with which one grows up at a young age.

Continue to Plus page 2 - Evolution of devolution: from Gamini to Chandrika

Read Letters to the Editor

Go to the Plus Archive


Home Page Front Page OP/ED News Business

Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to or to