Mushrooming local crack houses

Abandoned buildings breading ground for drug related crimes


Drug addict (file photo)

By Sajitha Prematunge

Abandoned buildings maybe more than just an eyesore. They are ideal breading grounds for drug-related crimes and prostitution. The Island recently reported how residents of Ragama have complained that the police and security officers have turned a blind eye to the nefarious activities conducted by thugs and drug addicts in the guise of beggars, under the flyover on Cardinal Cooray Mawatha at night. Approximately 25 addicts have now taken permanent residence under the flyover.

Abandoned buildings, construction sites or any unoccupied spaces in the suburban setting is open invitation to illegal activities. Unfortunately, let alone doing something about it the Urban Development Authority has no records of such abandoned or unutilised buildings, according to Urban Development Authority, Director General, Sumedha Ratnayake.

"It's not the dealers that use these buildings, but the abusers," said Police Narcotic Bureau (PNB) Director, DIG Sajeewa Medawaththa. He said that the Special Task Force, PNB and in some cases relevant police stations conduct raids based on complaints. He explained that not only abandoned buildings and constructions that have been halted, isolated places like unoccupied houses and vacant plots are increasingly used by addicts.

National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB), Director - Research, Badrani Senanayake pointed out that the most susceptible community is squatters, and wells, toilets, abandoned buildings and under flyovers are their favoured spots for drug abuse. "The Kelani Bridge, Thotalanga and the area from the Wellawatte canal to Dehiwala are where drug use is most prevalent."

According to the NDDCB Handbook of Drug Abuse Information 2017, 60 percent of drug related arrests have been reported from the Western Province. Of the total drug-related arrests, 43 percent drug abusers, doped on cannabis and heroin, were arrested from the Colombo District. The estimated quantity of street level supply of heroin in Sri Lanka is 1,478 kg per annum or nearly four kilograms per day. This quantity is sufficient for nearly 45,000 heroin dependants, depending on their drug use pattern. A total of 24,610 cannabis-related arrests and 22,431 heroin-related arrests have been made in 2016.

Senanayake explained that cannabis and heroin abuse is rampant in the Western Province and prescription drug abuse, specifically psychotropic substances, is reported mostly in Colombo. According to the NDDCB, although these are prescribed drugs, they are freely available in the black market.

"Abuse of prescribed medication is high in both Colombo and Negombo. But we have to keep in mind that the population of Colombo is anyway high" said DIG Medawaththa, suggesting that the high number of reports from Colombo maybe misleading. Medawaththa pointed out that although huge hauls of cocaine have been discovered in the past few years, the number of cocaine abusers is low compared to the number of addicts hooked on other drugs.

According to the Presidential Task Force on Drug Prevention (PTFDP), Director, Dr Samantha Kithalawaarachchi, most drug-related complaints originate from three clusters; Modara, Grandpass and Sahashrapura, Dematagoda. "After 6 pm drug and alcohol abuse is rampant in these areas," he said. Incidentally, these clusters are also infamous for prostitution as well. Most of the sex workers in these areas, numbering between 100 to 200, are girls aged around 20, who come to Colombo from remote villages in search of jobs. "They are first hooked on drugs and then used for prostitution. Middlemen take most of what they earn leaving the girls a mere pittance," said Kithalawaarachchi.

Approximately 200 to 300 children over the age of eight who do not go to school are used for drug peddling in these areas. "In fact parents themselves are not keen on sending their kids to school, because the more educated they are the more difficult it would be to get them to push drugs."

The Presidential Task Force on Drug Prevention, with the expertise of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB), have identified such children and plan to commence a programme that would enable such children to attend school regularly to commemorate the World Drug Day that fell on June 26. Kithalawaarachchi informed that taking into consideration the requirements of such children, they will be, if necessary, removed from the environment all together and taken into State custody.

There is little use in sending them to school while keeping them in an environment that is unconducive to education or their well being, explained Kithalawaarachchi. The legal process of taking them into state custody is undertaken by the Department of Probation and Child Care Services. "Places such as correctional facilities of Ambepussa and Meethirigala have been earmarked and will be converted into schools to house and educate these children." Kithalawaarachchi said that a monitoring mechanism, jointly enforced in collaboration by the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB) and the Department of Probation and Child Care Services, will ensure that these kids will not drop out of school again. Moreover, the PTFDP hopes to rehabilitate 10,000 adult drug addicts within the year.

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