While current world attention is focused on increasing drug addiction in the United States and in some countries of Western Europe, the old problem of opium smoking in Asia still remains.
While current world attention is focused on increasing drug addiction in the United States and in some countries of Western Europe, the old problem of opium smoking in Asia still remains. Many countries in Southeast Asia particularly are trying to wipe out this harmful but ancient custom. Singapore treats the problems as a medical one and runs a special hospital and rehabilitation centre for the cure of addicts.
For an addict, securing the drug is no problem. Supplies come down over mysterious land and sea routes from the poppy-growing areas in the hills of China, Thailand, Laos and Burma. Somewhere along the line the opium is processed, becoming a hard, black substance which is easily hidden and carried in small packages.
It finally finds its way to dingy illegal dens throughout Asia where men of many races and nationalities still go through the age-old routine of preparing their daily pipes.
There is no limit to a man's addiction except what he can afford. The quality and quantity of opium available to an addict depends only on his financial resources. Some men spend nearly all they money on the drug. Even the poorest usually seem to manage to barest necessity of three pipes a day.
Nobody is sure how many opium addicts there are in Southeast Asia today. But at least one country, Singapore is combatting the problem at its core - by curing addicts and thereby killing the market.
The focus point of this struggle against addiction is St. John's Island, five miles from Singapore itself, where 5,000 patients have passed through the wards of the Opium Treatment Centre, which was first opened 15 years ago.
All the addicts undergoing treatment are volunteers. They stay three months. All of them are treated free. The Singapore Government pays the bill.
Officials say it is impossible to say how many of the patients released have been completely cured but of one fact they are certain; at the end of three month's treatment a man leaves the Centre knowing that he can live without the drug.
Whether he has the motivation to do so is an other matter.
SYNOPSIS: IN DINGHY, ILLEGAL DENS THROUGHOUT ASIA, MEN OF ALL RACES YOUNG AND OLD, GO THROUGH THE AGE-OLD ROUTINE OF THE OPIUM ADDICT, DESPITE INTENSIVE ANTI-DRUG CAMPAIGNS BY AUTHORITIES AT ALL LEVEL. THEY STILL MANAGE THE BAREST NECESSITY OF THREE PIPES A DAY. LIKE OTHER DRUGS, THE QUALITY AND QUANTITY OF OPIUM AVAILABLE TO THE ADDICT DEPENDS ONLY ON WHAT HE CAN AFFORD. THERE IS A RITUAL TO OPIUM SMOKING, UNLIKE THE QUICK JAB OF A NEEDLE FOR THE HEROIN OR MORPHINE ADDICT.
AT ST. JOHN'S ISLAND SINGAPORE IS COMBATTING THE DRUG ADDICTION PROBLEM AT ITS CORE - THE ADDICTS THEMSELVES. A GOVERNMENT FERRY BOAT BRINGS EVERY WEEK VOLUNTEERS FOR REHABILITATION AT THE OPIUM TREATMENT CENTRE. THEY USUALLY STAY THREE MONTHS. SINGE THE CENTRE WAS OPENED 15 YEARS AGO, MORE THAN 5,000 ADDICTS HAVE PASSED THROUGH ITS WARDS.
AT PRESENT THERE ARE ONLY 34 ADDICTS IN THE CENTRE. THERE ARE 26 WARDERS. THE MAIN REASON FOR THE UNIFORMS IS TO GIVE ATTENDANTS AUTHORITY OVER THE PATIENTS. BUT THE ATMOSPHERE IS THAT OF A HOSPITAL NOT A PRISON.
ADDICTS ARE GIVEN A DAILY DOSE OF OPIUM TINCTURES DILUTED IN FLUID DURING THE FIRST TEN DAYS OF WITHDRAWAL PAINS. THE DOSE IS REDUCED EACH DAY. DURING THE FOLLOWING 20 DAYS THE PATIENT, NOW WITHOUT OPIUM, IS CLOSELY WATCHED TO SEE NO HARM COMES TO HIM. DURING THE WITHDRAWAL PERIOD, SOME PATIENTS BANG WALLS AND DOORS AND MAY ATTEMPT TO JUMP OVER A CLIFF OR OUT OF WINDOW. MOST OF THE PATIENTS ARE BETWEEN 35 AND 45. A DOCTOR VISITS THE CENTRE ONCE A WEEK TO KEEP AN EYE ON THE INMATES' HEALTH. SINGAPORE OFFICIALS BELIEVE THAT REHABILITATIONS CENTRES LIKE THIS ONE MAY HELP CONSIDERABLY TO EASE THE PROBLEM OF OPIUM ADDICTION IN SOUTHEAST ASIA.