Stop demonizing drug users!

9th October 2006

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Radio Clip 1 (30mins ; 3.5MB)
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The gruesome news and exposure of the so called drug treatment centre in Pakistan that claimed to follow a spiritual model of treatment has struck horror and concern amongst all of us professionals working in the addiction field.

Yet this is not the first time that I have come across stories of drug users being demonized! This despite the fact that drug education in different languages has been available to diverse communities (1).

The story of the drug cure prison came to light when two of the victims chained together escaped the forced captivity and were picked up by the police as they wandered the streets in their chains in Haripur. The police raided the ‘treatment centre’ and rescued 113 people, aged 12 to 50. The people rescued from this jail like rehabilitation centre told horrific stories of torture and abuse. They were chained, tortured physically, mentally and psychologically. Many were sexually abused.

The news also reveals that dozens of Britains have experienced this “spiritual treatment” including the two who were rescued at the time of the police raid. These Britons were sent there with the consent of their families.

This “Drug Cure Prison” has been going on for some time. It indicates that there be many who may have survived this “treatment”. But no one has spoken out!

We at the Drug and Alcohol Action Programme (DAAP) have tried to contact the families affected but have been met with silence - both from people in the community and professionals working in those areas. The feedback from those who have spoken to the families is that they regard this as a closed chapter.

The trauma of torture and abuse cannot be swept under the carpet.

First and foremost, our aim at DAAP is to empower communities against addiction.

We want to help the individuals and the families concerned to come to terms with their experiences. The trauma endured by drug users can only be imagined! Combined with this, at best family members must be feeling helpless. At worst guilt and shame.

DAAP can initially help by providing talk therapy, counseling and family mediation. We are able to do this in Urdu and Punjabi. DAAP officer Imam Zahid Bhatti and our local mosque can provide support to those seeking spiritual support. We will also support individuals and families to understand how drug addiction can be addressed and the sources of help that are available.

Take control of your life. Contact us at DAAP for absolutely confidential support.


Perminder Dhillon

Drug Cure Prison

Drug and Alcohol Action Programme (DAAP) believes that sending a loved one with an addiction problem back home to India/Pakistan/Bangladesh/Somalia or other originating country for a quick solution does not solve the problem. There are many reasons. For one thing, drugs may be more readily available. Second, unscrupulous organizations may masquerade as treatment centres denying appropriate interventions to the individual and the family.

The person with the addiction problem needs appropriate and timely help as well as support from their family and community. We recommend that families and individuals seek help locally where they can also avail of emotional support in rebuilding interpersonal relationships and trust.

Here Arastus Attarad manager of DAAP’s Ealing Drug Education Project describes his experience of working in the field of addiction in Pakistan.

I have worked for twelve years in the field of drug treatment and rehabilitation in Pakistan. This is not the first case of forced treatment and violation of human rights in the name of treatment and rehabilitation for drug users that I have come across. Such treatment was also meted out in the family by other family members. I also went to places where people admitted with drug addiction problems were treated like cursed people, possessed by evil spirits and treated as the scum of society.

One situation involved that of a family who had chained their own son. When we heard about this, we arranged a visit to the house the very next day. We were allowed to see the person with the drug problem only because his younger brother had a soft spot for him and the rest of the family were out The drug user was tied to his bed post with a chain long enough to let him go to the toilet. This was the 5th day and he was in a miserable state as he was going through one of the worst detoxification phases. Despite the fact that he was a poly-drug user, he was not receiving any medical attention. The only ‘treatment’ he was getting was cold showers and prayers. He was offered good food but he was not the least bit interested in it. He said he was willing to be free of addiction but needed help to feel better. There was absolutely no communication with the rest of the family as they were not willing to understand each others point of view. As we were still talking to him, the whole family returned home. The first reaction was that of anger directed mainly at the younger brother who had let their secret be known to outsiders. The family was not willing listen to us and asked us to leave. Based on our past experiences, we turned to a few local community and religious elders as well as local political leaders for help. We found that this case was not a secret. It was known to the local people, including the leaders.

Over the next few days we tried to get local people to support us to talk to the family. We arranged a meeting with the family with the help of a local councillor and two elders, After much discussion an agreement was reached to free the person and to admit him to a local hospital. This process took full nine days and by this time the person was reduced to skin and bone and was extremely distressed and dehydrated.

This case became a test case for looking at drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation at the provincial and at the national level.

The advancement in prevention, drug treatment and rehabilitation in Pakistan have come a long way since I joined this field,. A number of studies have been conducted focusing on understanding drug users’ profiles, risk factors leading to drug use, as well as economic and health risks related to drug use. Most of the research recommends that prevention is better than cure and urges adequate drug education.

There are a range of approaches to treatment for drug users. Few treatment services follow a research based approach. An effort is being made to make the treatment models from the USA culturally appropriate and user friendly. Traditional healers and religious leaders do play a major role. Spiritual treatment is still being sought, either on its own or in combination with solutions for physical, psychological and social problems.

It is therefore not surprising to find spiritual and or religious leaders running and managing a drug treatment and rehabilitation centre.

It is quite easy to set up a charitable organization in Pakistan. One does not have to comply with any specific National Standards to set up a drug use treatment and/or rehabilitation centre. Majority of treatment and rehabilitation centres are run by people with no professional background in management let alone in the educational, medical, psychological or social fields. They operate on ‘common knowledge’. These are the unscrupulous people playing with the needs and emotions of the drug user and their families. Especially as most people want to keep things SECRET. These unscrupulous people do operate in secrecy. To this extent that even the local authorities do not know of their existence unless and until the captives who are under ‘treatment’ escape and report it. One can only imagine the imbedded fear and damage done to the victims of this “treatment facility”.

Such treatment and rehabilitation practices will continue to exist and flourish as long as the myths and misconceptions around drugs, their effects, treatment, lapse, relapse and rehabilitation are not addressed. As long as families consider drug users as the source of the family shame, they will keep on “hiding” and denying the existence of drug use in the family. Along with denial, comes the resentment for the user. The drug use is seen as a ‘bad habit’ and not as an addiction problem that requires psychological, emotional or social support along with the right medical intervention. We are trained to see things as black and white. The only solution for drug addiction is then often seen as an immediate and complete stop of drug use. Withdrawal symptoms is seen as a lack of willpower and an intention to go back to drugs. If the person with the addiction survives the withdrawal phase, a strict surveillance by the family, relatives and friends of the family follows. The person is expected to be productive economically and socially, as soon as he/she comes off the drug. ‘Lapse’ is seen as dishonesty with the self and the family, a sign of poor willpower and is dealt with severity and strictness. Where as relapse is seen as a complete failure.

The shame or the tainting of the family ‘izzat‘ by the drug user is not the only factor for brushing the problem under the carpet. There are other reasons; like the lack of support for the family of the drug user especially the female members of the family The family of the drug user suffers unspoken discrimination when it comes to socializing or building relationships. It becomes very hard for the affected family to find uitable arriage matches for the daughters or sisters. The user usurps the identity of the whole family. The family is torn between love for the drug user and anger for him or her for the discrimination that the family faces. So the issue is dealt with complete secrecy. Many a time, drug users are sent away to far off places for treatment... like this so called treatment centre in Haripur.

Arastus Attarad
Manager, Ealing Drug Education Project

DAAP offers:

  • Assessment
  • Talk Therapy
  • Referral
  • Family mediation
  • Assistance in English, Udru, Punjabi and Somali
  • Drug education material in English, Udru, Punjabi and Somali
  • Training for volunteers
  • Assistance in rehabilitation
  • Platform for communities to strengthen themselves and raise their voice

NEWS: Britons freed from chains in mullah's 'drug cure' prison

By Isambard Wilkinson in Haripur
(Filed: 06/10/2006)

Treatment: Maulana Ilyas Qadri

A Pakistani cleric has been arrested for running a private jail to which he lured dozens of drug addicts from Britain by offering a spiritual cure in return for money.

In a raid this week, police found 113 people, aged between 12 and 50, bound in chains and shackled together at a madrassa, or religious school, in a remote village in northern Pakistan.

At least seven were British nationals of Pakistani origin.

Many prisoners, whose relatives consigned them to the care of Maulana Ilyas Qadri hoping they would be cured, claimed to have been sexually assaulted, beaten and starved.

The alarm was raised when two men shackled together escaped and told the police.

Abdul Majeed Afridi, the area police chief, said: "We were not mentally prepared for such a scene when we entered the madrassa. It seemed something out of a drama rather than reality.

"They were utterly terrified of him and the guards. They were beaten black and blue and claimed it was a jail, not a rehabilitation centre."

The cleric, who denies doing anything wrong, told The Daily Telegraph that he made patients chain themselves up and sign a disclaimer ordering that they should not be released until after a certain period of time. Their families paid about £50 a month for the "treatment".

"Married men would be chained for one year and unmarried men for 18 months," the mullah said.

"But people from Britain were chained for only three or four months because of pressure from back home."

He added: "Because of my spiritual treatment they would not feel pain."

A police officer displays the chains used to hold addicts seeking a cure.

Yesterday, at the Dar-ul-Aloom Kinzul Islam madrassa, in the village of Bhadiana, outside Haripur on the banks of the Tarbela Dam, the central chain to which "patients" were attached still ran 220ft along the stable-like cell block.

Guards had scribbled the names of inmates in exercise books noting who had received calls and confirming that they had not mentioned anything negative about the madrassa. Many calls were from worried relatives in Britain.

A police officer displays the chains used to hold addicts seeking a cure

The mullah distributed leaflets in Britain entitled "War against drug abuses". They claim that "a patient once admitted will never use drugs again" and "not a single doze [sic] of medicine is given".

"Addicts of heroin, opium and hashish from all over the world are treated here spiritually through Quranic verses."

Abdul Majid Mahmoud, from Stoke-on-Trent, said his family flew him from Manchester to Pakistan after he developed heroin addiction.

"My uncle met me at the airport and a week later he brought me here," said Abdul, who was reduced to skin and bone while in the madrassa.

"It was treatment by stick. Look at these chains," he said, pointing to the shackles on his ankles.

Six other Britons had already left and dozens more are understood to have passed through the madrassa.

Shahid Rashim, from Islamabad, said some patients were made "monitors" and would beat the others.

The mullah has practised his "cure" for years with impunity. He wielded such power that the police force had been instructed to drop a previous investigation.

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