The extent of recreational drug use in Malaysia is a cause of great public concern. In some parts of the country the problem appears to be out of control. The government had promised to eliminate illegal substance abuse by 2015, but this goal is unlikely to be achieved – there have even been claims that the problem is getting worse. The creation of a national drug task force has not led to the elimination of these substances – despite there being a mandatory death sentence for anyone caught selling more than 15 grams of heroin. The decision to force addicts into compulsorily rehab programs has also not proved to be very successful.
A mosque at the University of Malaya has created a pilot treatment program that offers a new approach to the treatment of addiction. It involves combining a methadone maintenance program with Islamic spiritual counseling. This treatment facility has been running for 3 years and has had some success. The Malaysian government is impressed enough by the results that they now plan to implement it across the country. The combination of rehab with religion and spirituality is not a new idea. There are many such programs in the west. This type of religious approach to addiction has achieved limited success, but it is obviously not an approach that works for everyone.
The Malaysian authorities hand out harsh penalties to those who supply drugs but despite this the use of illegal substances continues to increase steadily. One of the most widely abused illegal drugs is heroin, and the government has referred to this opiate as a national threat. Statistics show that at least 1.1% of the Malaysian population is involved in some type of drug abuse. In 2005 there were 34,813 heroin users detected – the majority of these addicts live in Pulau Pinang and Kedah. Up until the 1980s most drug users were part of the Malaysian Chinese community, but since that time the ethnic Malays have taken over as the group most likely to abuse these substances.
In an interview with Press TV a spokesperson from the Center of Addiction Sciences provided an overview of the program
Hussain Habil explains that the mosque rehab uses spiritual enhancement techniques to help the individual overcome their problems. This is referred to as an Islamic psycho spiritual intervention and it works best for people who are spiritually inclined. The program is also the first in Malaysia to offer methadone to participants. Historically the government has been opposed to the use of methadone in heroin rehabilitation, but they became more open to the idea after hearing how it had been successfully used in Iran. The program uses methadone as a means to wean the individual away from heroin. They then use Islamic counseling and religious practices to gradually change the person’s thinking. The hope is that once the individual has been returned to their spiritual path they will have no further need for addiction. A similar spiritual approach has been successfully used in neighboring Thailand by Buddhist monks at Thamkrbok temple, but that program does not use methadone.
The Malaysian Mosque Rehab Project has proved to be fairly successful. Prior to this the rehab programs for heroin addicts in the country had a dropout rate as high as 95%. The Mosque project has only seen a dropout rate of 20% during the 3 years it has been running. Those individuals who have stuck with the program have consistently tested negative for heroin and other drug use. Many of the participants have also managed to hold down employment and rebuild a relationship with their families.
The success of the Malaysian Mosque rehab has forced the authorities to reassess their approach to addiction treatment. The current project only has 50 participants but the goal is to provide similar programs available to all drug users in the country. In order to make this a reality 6,500 mosques across Malaysia will be offering this type of rehab. The government also plans to encourage Christians and Hindus to create similar programs to help drug users in these populations. It seems likely that this approach may be of value to those who are inclined to strong religious beliefs, but it is doubtful that such an approach will fully solve Malaysia’s drug problem.
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