Northern Province Health Minister Dr. P. Sathiyalingam said that statistics have shown that there is a drastic increase in the use of drugs and alcohol in the North.
He said that depression suffered by family members of war victims has led to them turning to drugs and alcohol.
“Some people have lost their families in the war, some are missing, some are divided. Alot of people are facing family problems as well in the North after the war with no proper income and this had led some of them to use drugs or consume alcohol to get over the issues they face,” he said.
Dr. P. Sathiyalingam said that the mental health issue in the North is becoming serious and needs to be addressed soon.
Just last year the Chief Minister of the Northern Province, C.V. Wigneswaran had claimed that illegal drugs were circulating in the North and that this had increased after the end of the conflict.
He had also blamed the military for spreading the use of drugs and alcohol adding that it was an attempt to stop the youth in the North from having a good education.
The use of drugs was under control when the LTTE was in power in the North and Wigneswaran had noted that since the army took control the situation had completely changed.
In January this year President Maithripala Sirisena had also pointed out that drug use has recorded an increase in the North and that drugs do more harm to society than weapons.
Dr. Sathiyalingam said that several awareness programmes are being carried out in the North to educate the youth on the dangers of illegal drugs.
He said that educating the public alone will however not be enough and there needs to be strong legal action. “The police must take strong action or this will continue day by day,” he said. Dr. Sathiyalingam said that since this is a social problem, community based groups must also work together in order to arrest the situation.
Last month the police recovered almost 2kg of heroin in Thondamanaru in Jaffna. The drugs, worth an estimated Rs. 12,00,00,000 was discovered after Valvettithurai police received a tip off.
In February 60kg of cannabis was also discovered by the police in the North. The cannabis, with a street value of approximately 15 million rupees, was seized in a pre-dawn raid by the police in Jaffna. The drugs were thought to have originated in Kerala and smuggled into the North-East via Inparutti, by Point Pedro. A 27 year old man was arrested by the police on suspicion of drug trafficking.
A study released late last month showed that alcohol and tobacco industries used their strategies in the Jaffna peninsula to open a new market for their products after the war. Identifying this issue, the Alcohol and Drug Information Center (ADIC) implemented a project in Jaffna to minimise the influence of alcohol and tobacco industries in Jaffna.
Relevant data was collected regarding industry strategies which promoted the products in Jaffna. Discussions were held with Regional Director of Health Service (RDHS) based on primary evidence. RDHS initiated discussions with all Medical Officers of Health(MOH), Senior Public Health Inspectors (SPHI), Public Health Inspectors(PHI) and Public Health Midwives (PHM) in Jaffna and made a strategic plan to minimise the influence of industries. According to the strategic plan awareness programmes were conducted for school children.
Public education campaigns were conducted and saunters were arranged to educate public. PHMs made mothers aware of the issue in clinics. SPHIs and PHIs educated the owners of the shops and hotel which were direct mode to sell alcohol and tobacco.
The result of the awareness programmes saw personnel in the structure counter attack the strategies of industries in towns in Jaffna. Seventy-one shops in Chawakachchery, Tellipalai, Sanganaiand Alavety towns quit selling cigarettes. Retail shops and hotels quit displaying indirect promotions in their business premises. PHI in Chawakachchery town joined with Trade Association and stopped selling cigarettes on Fridays as the first step to make a tobacco free town. MOH Tellipalai conducted programmes and campaigns to make the public aware of the issue. He was able to display larger billboards counteracting tobacco and alcohol at main bus stands in Jaffna and Sanganai with a sponsorship of a community based organisation.
The study found that increased awareness of authorities, successfully leads them to organise innovative implementations to overcome the strategic efforts of alcohol and tobacco industries.