By Heshan Priyatilake
Soma Silva (name changed) is not your average 32-year-old Sri Lankan
mother. She single-handedly manages to look after her five children
– with her husband, a drug addict, being in jail. How could
she possibly cope?
Silva earns a monthly income of Rs. 20,000. Not from a government
job or from working in a garment factory. Known as ‘Kudu Menike’,
she is a small time drug dealer while her evenings are spent not
with her children, but selling her body. Ms. Silva is from a Moratuwa
slum where cheap board houses shake even when three wheelers pass
by. The canal nearby is a mobile body of rotting sewage and floating
rubbish. Its static banks serve as an ideal breeding ground for
mosquitoes. The 15,000 inhabitants of this community are poor, and
the majority have no mission in life, no purpose. Like a balloon,
they drift aimlessly.
as young as 14 are already mothers in this small community. Their
husbands are drug addicts. Their parents are drug addicts. The girls
themselves are drug addicts. Whom can children in this community
look up to as role models? What education can be of use when they
have nothing to work for, no hope? Where do these children turn
to for comfort? These are all but empty questions whose answers
are tangled in a vicious circle. Lack of education, lack of opportunity
and above all, the lack of a vision for a better tomorrow lead the
community into a black hole of endless nothing. These people, however,
believe they have found the answer to their problems in heroin.
to the Sri Lanka Anti Narcotics Association Programme Coordinator
R.K.P Rajapakse, a shocking percentage of the inhabitants in that
little village community in Moratuwa are heroin addicts (see box).
what is it about heroin that lures them? At about Rs. 100 a dose,
it’s far from cheap for the people in this community. Yet
some sniff as many as 10 doses a day. Where do they get the money
for all this? The majority are unemployed, so have turned to a life
now at the scene at one of the many popular night clubs in Colombo.
Throngs of young people, rush into the club – for a night
of fun, drinks and laughter that will last them till the early hours
of the morning. These youngsters come from a totally different background
compared to those from that little community in Moratuwa. They are
from affluent families and are educated in the best schools in Colombo.
the club, bathed in neon lights and the thick veil of cigarette
smoke, many of these ‘rich kids’, some as young as 13,
sip cocktails and smoke expensive cigars.
the majority of these young party-goers, this is purely a weekend
outing with friends, but there’s a small percentage of youth
who are addicted to certain other aspects of club life – alcohol,
cigarettes and drugs.
Clubbing is a widely misunderstood concept amongst Sri Lankans.
In fact, the majority of party- goers have a good time without consuming
anything other than a Coca Cola. Others enjoy a few drinks without
letting it get out of control. But a small group turns to more serious
substances varying from marijuana to cocaine. The alarming fact,
however is that this group appears to be growing.
makes youth from wealthy families turn to drugs? They have the best
of education and everything to look forward to in the future- university,
jobs and a stable future. They have what the youngsters in that
little community in Moratuwa cannot even dream of.
one thing remains the same: young minds, whether from a village
in Moratuwa or from Colombo 7, are easily influenced. People are
always on the look out for something different. What starts off
with alcohol can turn to drugs such as crack cocaine, marijuana
and the like.
children from a wealthy background are from families whose parents
have no time for them. Their parents are busy attending to their
own affairs and improving financial and social status. With family
togetherness that forms the key to happy relationships lacking,
these young people have no one to turn to. Often, parents are blind
to the fact that although the child may have all material comforts,
the spiritual food that comes first from their homes, their families,
their parents and which they need to become well-rounded and responsible
citizens, is missing.
0.3% of the Sri Lankan population is in drug rehabilitation camps.
What of those still at large in society? How many more Soma Silvas
exist and how many youngsters both from poor and rich backgrounds
will be trapped in this vicious cycle before society wakes up?
Heroin, a white powder in its pure form, is Sri Lanka's most widely
abused hard drug. Produced from opium poppies, heroin may also vary
from white to dark brown because of impurities.
fumes induce a surge of euphoria. It suppresses the nervous system,
and can kill in doses large enough. Within 10 seconds of inhalation,
the user feels happiness. An intense high accompanied by a warm
flushing of the skin and a dry mouth. Following this initial euphoria,
the user goes "on the nod," an alternately wakeful and
drowsy state. Mental functioning becomes clouded due to the depression
of the central nervous system. Long-term effects of heroin appear
after repeated use for some period of time. Chronic users may develop
collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves and liver
addicts spend as much as Rs. 1000 or more a day on heroin. The Western
Province is the largest stronghold of heroin, with areas such as
Dematagoda, Orugodawatte and Wanathamulla being especially notorious.
Usually called ganja in Sri Lanka, marijuana is the most widely
used illegal substance in the world today. Its use is also the most
controversial due to its increasing use in the medical field, and
legalization efforts underway.
a few minutes after inhaling marijuana smoke, an individual's heart
begins beating more rapidly, the bronchial passages relax and become
enlarged, and blood vessels in the eyes expand, making the eyes
look red. The heart rate, normally 70 to 80 beats per minute, may
increase up to 130 beats per minute.
marijuana "joints" may increase the risk of cancer more
than smoking tobacco. Marijuana smoke contains 60% more carcinogenic
hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke.
term effects of marijuana use include impaired short-term memory,
impaired concentration, attention and judgment; impaired coordination
and balance, increased heart rate, bloodshot or red eyes, dry mouth
and increased appetite.
term effects include psychological addiction, paranoia, persistent
anxiety, impaired learning skills and memory difficulties.
Another illegal drug, the popularity of which seems to be growing
at a menacing pace in Sri Lanka, MDMA, also referred to as Ecstasy,
XTC, Adam and Essence, is considered a designer drug - a substance
on the drug market that is a chemical analogue or variation of another
Users say it produces profoundly positive feelings, empathy for
others, elimination of anxiety, and extreme relaxation. MDMA is
also said to suppress the need to eat, drink or sleep, enabling
club scene users to endure all-night and sometimes two or three-day
is taken orally, usually in tablet or capsule form. MDMA tablets
are often "stamped" with icons or logos intended to appeal
to a young audience. Its effects last around four to six hours.
used alone, MDMA is dangerous enough. It is even more dangerous
when used in combination with other substances, as the physical
and psychological effects are difficult to determine or predict.
Ecstasy tablet costs between Rs 25 and 150, depending on the quality
and these are often sold in small pharmacies along with regular
Because crack is smoked, the user experiences a high in less than
10 seconds. This immediate and euphoric effect is one of the reasons
that crack became enormously popular in the mid-1980s. Another reason
is that crack is inexpensive both to produce and to buy.
effects of smoking crack include constricted blood vessels and increased
temperature, heart rate and blood pressure, restlessness, irritability,
anxiety, and with long term use, violence and paranoia. Additionally
smoking crack causes respiratory problems such as shortness of breath,
chest pains, lung trauma and bleeding. Drugs such as cocaine are
brought into the country by tourists on holiday.