Sri Lanka: Ground-breaking of new voluntary drug rehabilitation centre


June 26, 2020/Colombo, Sri Lanka: As the Government of Sri Lanka confronts the immediate health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, the prison sector also faces mounting pressure. Prisoners, including those remanded on terrorism charges, live, eat and sleep in close proximity to each other, with social-distancing measures practically unenforceable in confined spaces and overcrowded prisons. Prison infrastructure has also been forced to carefully consider how to manage the growing issue of separating newly arrived prisoners from the general prison population to minimize the spread of the virus.

Criminals too, have had to adapt their methods to the COVID-19 situation, resulting in a significant increase in drug interdictions coming toward Sri Lanka and indicating an alarming spike in transfers of drugs into the country. This increase in trafficking will no doubt see a rise in drug use and related convictions, placing even greater strain on an already congested prison system. In response, the Government recently drafted the Anti-Drug Action Plan and established a Special Task Force, with rehabilitation of drug users outside the prison system and increasing the capacity of drug treatment facilities in the country as one of four priority areas.  

Fully aware of the prison sector challenges the Government of Sri Lanka currently face, UNODC procured building materials to support the refurbishment of a specialized voluntary drug rehabilitation centre, designed reduce concentration in the overall prison population. This assistance comes as part of a project supported by the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany.

On 26 June 2020, UNODC participated in a Ground-Breaking Event for the launch of the Nawadiganthaya drug treatment facility in Colombo, attended by high-level representatives of the Ministry of Defence, National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB), Sri Lanka Navy, Sri Lanka Police and State Intelligence Service. Nawadiganthaya has been developed to divert drug users away from prisons, reduce prison populations and strengthen the response capacity and capability to prevent and combat the spread of COVID-19 in the prison sector, contributing to the overall Government strategy to address the pandemic.

Mr. Andreas Berg, German Deputy Ambassador for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, delivered a speech at the event, expressing support for “the Government in their efforts to decongest the prisons and provide better care and treatment for drug users in rehabilitation centers rather than prisons”. He went on to highlight strong support for the “shift [in] their efforts to tackle drug use from a punitive approach to focusing on health”.

After a tour of the facilities, Dr. Laknath Welagedara, Chairman of NDDCB, made some remarks and highlighted the launch of their mobile app and YouTube channel for raising awareness about drug use and supporting drug users. The event was closed by Secretary of Defence Major General (Retd) G.D.H. Kamal Gunaratne WWV RWP RSP USP NDC PSC MPhil.

“UNODC in Sri Lanka is delighted to be supporting the Government as it shifts its drug control policy from a punitive approach to a more health-oriented approach” said Mr. Troels Vester, Head ad interim of the UNODC Programme Office in Sri Lanka (POLKA). “One of the cornerstones of the international drug convention system is the principle that treatment should be voluntary” he continued. “We are committed to assisting the Government of Sri Lanka on all aspects of drug control in the years to come and see today as a step in the right direction.”

With 26 June marking the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (World Drug Day), the Ground-Breaking Event is very timely. The theme of this year’s World Drug Day focuses on “Better knowledge for better care” and the misinformation that plagues drug use disorders, aiming to improve understanding that these disorders are the result of multiple factors very much out of the control of the individual.

Facilitated by UNODC support, the development of the Nawadiganthaya centre marks an important step in the Government’s efforts to both combat the spread of COVID-19 in the prison sector and recognize the World Drug Day theme.


This assistance comes as part of a project supported by the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany.