Every year on 26 June, the world marks the World Drug Day. The UNODC Regional Office for South Asia pays tribute to this year's slogan "Think health-not drugs!" by posting a series of testimonials of recovering drug users from the region. We start our series today with a testimony from Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka: "My life, my community - no place for drugs"
The journey of a recovering drug user
In Sri Lanka, it is estimated that there are currently 45,000 regular users of heroin and about 600,000 users of cannabis. It is further estimated that between 1 and 2 per cent of heroin users are injecting the drug. Drug users can be helped to develop attitudes and social practices through community-led interventions that promote health and overall progress. In most cases, drug users would like to quit drugs but may not necessarily have access to the necessary support systems. One recovering drug user who has been using these services shares how his life was transformed by efforts supported by UNODC in Sri Lanka and the impact that this transformation has had on his life and family.
"Like many drug users, I have endured a tumultuous journey. I would like to share my personal story and how I gave up drugs. I hope that I am able to continue this wonderful journey of life without drugs and inspire other young drug users to do the same. With this mission in mind, I have voluntarily stepped forward to share my story and make a small difference.
"It all started when heroin was introduced to me at the age of 21. The first feeling was enough to have me craving for more. Heroin was my preferred drug and I could not stop as my body underwent withdrawal symptoms. Initially, I would purchase drugs worth 500 Sri Lankan rupees [equivalent to US$ 10] every day. Gradually, as my craving grew, my desire to spend more money also increased. I spent almost 5,000 rupees [US$ 100] every day, which is a hefty sum for me.
"At the end of nine years of using drugs, the business I owned along with my respect were lost. I had to resort to illegal means for earning money to support my drug using habits and often I landed in jail. After my release, I spent time at a community center to recover. There, I met a peer volunteer who talked me into visiting the drop-in center which was part of a UNODC project in Sri Lanka. It conducted a 15-day community-based health camp for drug users who were otherwise hard to reach because of the social stigma associated with drug use. The interactive sessions with the doctors, the counsellor and outreach staff, helped us in working on our problems.
"Accessing support services from this center significantly reduced my drug use. This was a good beginning and I decided to go more often and start a new life. Just when I thought everything was ending, I was gifted with a new beginning. In August 2006, I officially began a new life free from drugs. Though I still live with the regrets of having been a drug user, I remain optimistic. I believe that by helping other drug users recover, I am in some small way also healing myself."
UNODC, through its project entitled "Prevention of transmission of HIV among drug users in South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation countries" is implementing the comprehensive package of services and model interventions across nine distinct sites in Sri Lanka. The project is being implemented under the leadership of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board of Sri Lanka and with technical assistance from the UNODC project team.