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#1106, 22 August 2003
Drug-trafficking and Abuse in Sri Lanka
N Manoharan
Research Officer, IPCS

Drug-trafficking and drug abuse is the major menace in Sri Lanka, next only to the ethnic crisis. This menace is evident from the fact that, according to the official figures, there are nearly 50,000 drug addicts in the island. The unofficial statistics could be double or treble the official ones. Estimated demand for heroin is around 720 kg per year costing US $ 8 mn annuallyâ€ a drain on foreign exchange, as the drug only comes from outside its borders. About SL Rs. 25 million is being spent annually by the government, to provide free treatment and rehabilitation services for drug users. The expenditure by Department of Prisons for correctional services of drug-related offences, mental and physical problems, disruption of education and other costs incurred by the immediate family members of drug users is not taken into account.  The prevalence of high suicide rates and drug addiction also has its costs.

The common drugs abused in the island are heroin and cannabis. The use of cocaine and therapeutic drugs like diazepam benzodiazepines (Flunitrazepam, Diazepam, Rohypnol, Valium), methaqulone (Mandrax), codeine, methadone and amphetamines is also common. The use of opium is insignificant. Heroin was first introduced into the country in 1981 through the “hippie” tourists. Initially confined to tourists, the consumption of heroin gradually spread to the local population, making the island a demand driven rather than a supply driven market in the 1980s. Due to its proximity to ‘Golden Triangle’ and ‘Golden Crescent’, Sri Lanka had become a major transit point for heroin to Europe and other Western countries on an organized scale. Heroin is routed via Sri Lanka from Pakistan or India on a big scale by sea by containers and mechanized fishing craft. This sea route takes two forms: from Pakistan to Mumbai (facilitated by underworld dons in the city), then to Tuticorin or Rameshwaram and then to Sri Lanka by sea; on from Pakistan to southern India via the land route through Jaisalmer or Barmer and then by sea to Sri Lanka. A considerable amount of drugs also come from Southeast Asia transiting the Indian sub-continent. Small scale smuggling is also done by couriers by air. Some amount of drug influx takes place through diplomatic sources concealed in their baggage but the veracity of such reports is not fully established.

            This brings us to the important question of linkage between Tamil militancy and drug-trafficking in the island. Terrorist groups are increasingly turning to the drugs trade to finance their activities. In the region extending from Southeast Asia to Central Asia a mutually beneficially relationships has developed between drug-traffickers and terrorist groups. While drug-traffickers benefit from the terrorists’ military skills, weapons supply and access to clandestine organisations, the terrorists gain a source of revenue and expertise in illicit transfer and laundering of the proceeds from illicit transactions. The involvement of the LTTE in the drugs trade is not officially established, but this does not mean that the militant organisation can be absolved of this linkage. The LTTE may not involve itself directly in the trade to avoid bad publicity. At the same time, the huge sums of money available from drug profits cannot be ignored by the outfit. The LTTE refuses any connection with the drugs trade, but its cadres and sympathizers are arrested in this regard the world over? Why has there been a sudden upsurge of drugs flow in the island since the late 1980s? What is the connection between Myanmarese training offers and the drug courier services of the Tigers? This aspect requires separate analysis.

            But what is certain is that the ethnic crisis has increased the amount of drugs flow and abuse in the island. Apart from insurgency, the drug mafia – law enforcers nexus has also been responsible for the spread of drugs and their abuse in the island. The drug control activities of the government include the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board under the Ministry of Defence and Police Narcotics Bureau under the Ministry of Interior. The coordination between these two nodal bodies and various other governmental agencies is not effective. Sri Lanka is yet to bring about domestic legislation to give effect to the Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971, and the UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988 to which it is a signatory. These apart, effective drug prevention activities involve proper organisation and creation of awareness among the common people. The mass media must also be used for this purpose.           

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