Maldives: In Conversation with Mohamed Rashid on Drug Use
ne 2009: The Regional UNODC Office for South Asia interviewed Mohamed Rashid who was recently in New Delhi, to attend the regional consultative meeting, 16 June - 17 June 2009, to help develop a national advocacy strategy for Maldives under the Joint UN ( UNAIDS, UNODC and WHO) Regional Project- Prevention of Transmission of HIV amongst Drug Users in SAARC Countries.
UNODC: What made you take drugs and why?
Mohamed Rashid: I was an obsessive drug addict for 19 years and it was like being trapped in a cell with no light and oxygen - I call that hell. Male is one of the islands where I live and often tourists refer to it as a 'The Paradise'. It is a small place and I was popularly known as Rado- the drug addict. I was introduced to drugs at the age of 16 years by my friends and was curious to know what was this 'high or trip' they all talked about. With less employment opportunities in the city, I found myself idling in the streets with plenty of time. I started smoking grass or marijuana in 1985 graduating to hashish oil in 1997. I would mix the hashish oil with tobacco and smoke it. As my body became more resistant to the drugs, I craved for a higher more powerful dose for the feeling of pure euphoria. I then was introduced to Heroin. Those were my worst days. I would inhale 1 bullet, which is 5 grams of heroin for every 24 hours. I would place the heroin or some times brown sugar on a Wrigley's chewing gum wrapping foil and move a burning lighter under it and inhale the smoke. This was called 'chasing the dragon'. I would peddle 30 bullets, pay the dealer and save 6 bullets for my use. Unfortunately I was unaware of its deadly consequences and harm. Had I been more aware of it, had my teachers educated me about it or my family warned me about the use of drugs as I was growing up, I would have had the choice to say no to drugs and my life would be so different.
UNODC: How did taking drugs affect your life and relationships?
Mohamed Rashid: I manipulated my wife for money. I stole from family members. I emotionally black mailed my wife and spent all her salary in buying drugs. I sold everything in my house. Once I was so desperate for money, I remember picking up a rice cooker in which rice was being cooked, threw all the rice and ran away with it. I forgot I was a son, a husband and a father. I neglected my children and they needed my love, care and support. I used to lie 'stoned' in the pavements out of my senses. I almost lost my family, my children and my respect. Still my wife looked after me and children treated me like their father. I survived only because they did not lose hope in me.
UNODC: When did you decide to start recovery?
Mohamed Rashid: When my mother told me to stay locked in my room when my brother's future in law's came to visit our family, I had the painful realization that my family was ashamed of me. Because of me they too could be discriminated against. I was a curse and shame for them. That is when I decided to reverse and change my life. I had a right to be happy and have a normal life. Desperate, with no money and clueless, I began scouting on my own for centers that helped people like me. I traveled to some of the islands of Maldives but found nothing appropriate or even decent. So I tried 'cold turkey detoxification' method on my own. The withdrawal process is painful when you suddenly stop taking heroin. Chills would pass though my body and the hair on my body would stand on end. (That is why it is called 'cold turkey') I would take cold showers and bathe in the sea since cold water shortens the painful period. This did not last but it was at least a beginning. I relapsed shortly after trying to treat myself on my own.
UNODC: Is there a national drug control framework in Maldives? Has the Republic of Maldives ratified the three UN conventions related to narcotic drugs?
Mohamed Rashid: Official recognition of the drug problem came in 1977 when a person was arrested with 350 grams of hashish. As a result, the first principal legislative act, The Law on Narcotics Drugs (Law No/ 17/77) dealing with narcotic and psychotropic substances was passed in 1977 to help the legal system deal with the problem of drug abuse. According to me the law needed to be more comprehensive since it did not distinguish between users and suppliers. It would sentence life imprisonment, which is close to 25years, to the dealers and the users. According to this law, anyone in possession of 1 gram of heroin was a dealer. Drug users also inhaled 1 gram of heroin and would be arrested under the charge of being a dealer. This law was then later amended making a distinction between users and suppliers. While drug suppliers are sentenced to harsher punishments, drug users are generally given opportunities to reform at the department of Drug Rehabilitation Services (DRS). Yes, the Republic of Maldives has ratified all the three UN conventions relating to drugs namely the Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs, 1961, Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971 and the Convention against illicit Traffic in Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988.
UNODC: Were you ever arrested? If yes how were you treated in the prisons?
Mohamed Rashid: I have been arrested three times. The first time I was sentenced to six years and kept in custody for three months for investigation. The attitude then of the police authorities was to brand us as criminals. They did not want to hear our side. We had no legal representation. No human rights organizations were that active at that time. We had no choice but to succumb. I was then asked to be admitted at the center of the Drug Rehabilitation Services (DRS). There was a waiting list and would have to be in queue for 18 months. While in queue, I was arrested a second time for drug use and this time was sentenced to 18 years of imprisonment. After writing several letters to the prison authorities, I was admitted at the rehabilitation ward. The National Narcotics Control Bureau (NNCB) monitored me. To be placed back in the community, I had to meet the standards like being clean of drugs for a period of five years, have a steady behaviour with no signs of violence. I was subsequently released and asked to attend the after care programs for recovering drug users in the community.
UNODC: In your experience, how effective is the drug treatment programme in Maldives?
Mohamed Rashid: Since this was the only rehabilitation and treatment programme for drug users in Maldives at that time, the treatment was helpful for an initial kick start. The establishment of the NNCB has further strengthened the efforts of the government aimed at addressing the issues of drug control. It is responsible for the co-ordination of demand reduction and awareness building programmes, maintaining communication with international drug control agencies and management of rehabilitation programmes. What really helped me in their program was the psycho-social support. It is by attending these meetings that I realized that I can recover, if I make up my mind not to take drugs - then half the battle is won. Then any treatment will work for me because I make an effort to cooperate. I wish the authorities at the NNCB would look into the prevention and behavioral aspect of the treatment as well.
UNODC: Can you tell us about your organization Journey and its work in reducing drug use in Maldives?
Mohamed Rashid: When I came back to the community, I used to find ways to survive without drugs. I hunted for Self Help Groups and NGOs that had programmes for recovering drug users. I attended a few programmes and realized that organizations would be successful in dealing with this issue if they involved recovering and recovered drug users to help in the treatment process. I gathered few recovering drug users and started an organization called 'Journey'. It is formed by the recovering drug users and is for the drug users. I was the vice chairperson of Journey. We would typically target drug users and recovering drug users who were to be returned back to the community after having completed the treatment programme supported by the government. We provided peer counseling and psycho-social support. We monitored their behaviour and ensured there are no relapses for those recovering. We also looked into the after care process and conducted awareness programmes on the harmful effects of drugs and how it can be avoided for the drug users and their family especially their children. Above all we did not discriminate them or make them feel like outcasts and criminals. We treated them with love and humanity since we understand well what they are going through.
Brief Profile of Mohamed Rashid: He is a recovering drug user. He is from Male and is popularly known all over the island as 'Rado'. He has been in recovery for the last 7 years and remains drug free till date. Earlier he worked as a senior Police Officer, in the National Security Services, Maldives. He was the Vice President of Journey, an organization run by recovering drug users for drug users in Maldives. Currently he works with the Government of Maldives on drug rehabilitation and recovery at the department of Drug Rehabilitation Services, under the Ministry of Health and Family.
UNODC supports the Government of Maldives in the designing and the implementation of its ever first Drug Control Master Plan which was approved in March 2008. Within this Plan the government implements the comprehensive package of services for Injecting Drug Users and their sex partners with the support of UNODC and local NGOs.
The UNODC work in Maldives is possible through the contribution of the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid)