Sri Lanka: Interview with Mr. D.P Mendis, Chairman, National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB), Sri Lanka

UNODC: How serious is the drug use situation in Sri Lanka?

Mr. Mendis: The Government of Sri Lanka understands that the problem of drug use is a global issue and the control of narcotics is an inherent element of many aspects of social and economic development. The past few years have seen a growing recognition that a comprehensive approach to the problems of drug use in Sri Lanka requires a balance between supply reduction, treatment, rehabilitation and demand reduction. In the wake of ethnic problems, there has been an increase in the involvement of Sri Lankan nationals in smuggling drugs across national frontiers. Sri Lanka's location, between Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam also known as the 'golden triangle' and Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan known as the 'golden crescent', make Sri Lanka vulnerable to drug trafficking. There has been a slight but steady increase in narcotics consumption, particularly of heroin. The most recent figures on drug use in Sri Lanka come from the NDDCB Rapid Prevalence Survey conducted in 2004. According to this survey it is estimated that there are currently about 45,000 regular users of heroin and about 600,000 users of cannabis in Sri Lanka. It is further estimated that about 1 percent of heroin users are injecting drug users. There is need to reinforce the existing national policy on drug abuse with a focus on strengthening law enforcement agencies and develop interventions for education, treatment and rehabilitation.

UNODC: What is the role of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB) in illicit drug control in Sri Lanka?

Mr. Mendis: The Government of Sri Lanka is fully aware of its international obligations, particularly those stemming from the Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs 1961, Convention on Psychotropic Substances 1971, and United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffick in Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances 1988 ratified by the government. Sri Lanka is a party to all the three UN Conventions on drug abuse and trafficking.

In Sri Lanka at present, the Ministry of Public Security, Law and Order has the overall responsibility for counter narcotics and demand reduction activities. In 1984, as drug use continued to increase, the government created the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB) under the Ministry of Defence. The NDDC B is in charge of overseeing and coordinating all drug control activities of law enforcement agencies, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation through a number of agencies. It believes that prevention and rehabilitation are fundamental tools in the fight against drug use. They must involve not just gathering of facts and broadcasting of anti drug messages, but also create a stronger resistance in society. This task demands an integrated and multidisciplinary response. The NNDCB has played a role in coordinating various international efforts to curb drug use in Sri Lanka in the following sectors of drug control: the strengthening of customs and law enforcement capabilities, the study and development of a harmonized legislative approach to drug related offences, the improvement of treatment and rehabilitation services for drug users and the launching of a wide variety of education campaigns in schools and communities. It also works closely with the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) that investigates major drug cases and responds to international requests with regard to drug law enforcement.

UNODC: What efforts has the NDDCB made to provide treatment and rehabilitation to the drug users?

Mr. Mendis: There is no compulsory treatment of drug dependents in Sri Lanka. Courts of law often refer accused or convicted persons for treatment. In view of the large number of persons voluntarily seeking treatment, the Department of Health with the help of the NDDCB will be responsible for providing guidance to the development and maintenance of a comprehensive national treatment policy and programme for drug dependents. The co-operation and collaboration of the non-governmental sector and the community will be encouraged. There will be an effort to make treatment services free of charge. Health care professionals will be given training in treatment of drug users. The legislation is enacted and facilities to the police, judges, doctors and treatment personnel will be provided for carrying out compulsory treatment.

UNODC: Can you tell us about the national drug control policy and how effective it is?

Mr. Mendis: The National Policy for Prevention and Control of Drug Abuse has been launched and is in operation. The key factor is that all the institutions that come under the Government's purview will have to adhere to this national drug policy. The revised national policy which was approved in June 2005 consists of the following strategies: effective monitoring of imports, exports, distribution of drugs and precursor chemicals under control; effective enforcement of law against production, smuggling and trafficking of illicit drugs and supporting regional and international initiatives on prevention of drug use. According to this policy, the Government will adopt a broader approach to drug use control within the context of human development, focusing particularly on the links between drug use, poverty reduction, crime prevention and improving health. In such a strategy supply control and demand reduction will reinforce each other. Prevention and treatment as part of demand reduction have to conform to the new law of compulsory treatment - Act No 54 of 2007.

UNODC: Is the NDDCB collaborating with the community groups and NGOs to address drug use in Sri Lanka?

Mr. Mendis: In 1998 the Special Session of the UN General Assembly adopted a political declaration that called upon communities and NGOs to work together in actively promoting a society free of drug use-related problems. Understanding this commitment, the role of the NGOs has been encouraged and supported by the government, particularly in relation to demand reduction. In 1986 the Federation of Non-Government Organizations Against Drug Abuse (FONGOADA) was born and is the umbrella group for NGOs in Sri Lanka. Experience has shown that community-wide action can be effective in preventing and reducing drug use in the community. It is here that organizations like UNODC can play a pivotal role in providing training and information on prevention of drug use and HIV in Sri Lanka. Its drug use prevention programmes are effective because they respond to the needs of the community, involve all the relevant stake holders and are based on evidence and effective programmes incorporating strong monitoring and evaluation components.

Mr. D. P. Mendis is the Chairman of The National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB), Sri Lanka. The NDDCB came into operation in April 1984. Its mission is to create a social system which reflects the national drug policy and priorities and supports drug use prevention efforts.

UNODC provides technical assistance in Sri Lanka through four different projects in the areas of (i) capacity building in law enforcement, (ii) precursor control, (iii) HIV prevention and care among drug users and (iv) among vulnerable groups in prisons. These projects are possible thanks to the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid), Government of India (GoI) the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and UNAIDS.