Drugs are BIG in Malaysia. In the past six years, there have been more than 130,000 documented drug users in the country. These, however, are only the ones that are registered with the National Drug Information System– frankly, what kind of drug user wants the government to know that they’re doing drugs??
The numbers have been increasing yearly, with numbers rising by 16% just last year. So to get off drugs, many opt for inpatient rehabilitation centres. There are a range of rehab centres, from upscale private ones to the 29 inpatient ones run by the government, or the AADK- Agensi Antidadah Kebangsaan.
One of us at CILISOS happens to know the coordinators of a centre located in Petaling Jaya. From the outside, it looks like a normal corner lot; but inside, it’s a rehab that’s run almost entirely by ex-addicts (this is more common than you might think)!
The main coordinator of the centre, Pastor Samuel Krishnan, used to be a drug addict himself. He runs the centre while working towards a Masters in Counseling, and in the meantime, uses his past experiences and a serious dose of tough love in helping those who can’t help themselves.
But not dangerous meh, all these ex-addicts running the place? Surprisingly, Pastor Sam thinks that this is more helpful to those in the rehab, because it helps those who are recovering feel like they are empathised with.
The coordinator of this rehab has tried almost every drug available in Malaysia
“Before doing drugs, I used to caddy for the Sultan and all his friends. My family, we owned a sundry shop, so I used to work there until my family stopped doing it lah. But then I started doing drugs.” – Pastor Sam
Pastor Sam -or Pastor, as the guys in the centre call him- first got into smoking marijuana 24 years ago, then moved on to heroin and opium. He was also an alcoholic. To fuel his habit, he would push drugs as well, taking his ‘business’ to various places, even going as far as to Singapore to buy and sell drugs.
“I started using needles to shoot up. I was going downhill and I wanted to end it. I was so suicidal, I didn’t want to live anymore. But then one of my friends told me that there is hope, that I didn’t have to end my life. He forced me to go to rehab, so I decided to go.” – Pastor Sam
Pastor Sam took his friend’s advice and went through recovery, and he’s now been clean since 1994 (this author wasn’t even born wei)! Because of this, he’s decided to dedicate his life to helping other people with addictions– drugs or otherwise. His faith also played a big part in his recovery, hence the Pastor title (no surprise there). We managed to find a few other rehabs that operate like this in Malaysia as well!
“I believe there is a God who is all-powerful, who can help them overcome these addictions. We cannot force them to become Christians, and we accept everyone, but you must believe in something, like a higher power- or else it will be easy to fall.” – Pastor Sam
This is why the centre runs with Christian principles, with Bible study sessions and church attendance being mandatory. Christian-based rehab, though, doesn’t just mean praying in the morning…
First… you need to set some *harsh* expectations for the addicts.
The first thing that addicts are made to understand here are that they lose all RIGHTS, and are only given PRIVILEGES – a necessary discipline (according to Pastor Sam) to incentivise them to heal.
“Actually, they have no rights when they come here. If you have good behaviour, or you better yourself, then you will get a privilege; but if you disobey, don’t follow the rules, then there will be discipline for that– like no night cap (supper) or tea. Also sometimes we have some kind souls bringing us KFC or pizza, and other times we have movie nights… those are considered privileges as well.” – Pastor Sam
The centre actually houses some computer addicts, so the only functioning computer in sight was the one sitting in Pastor Sam’s office! The only music the men -called brothers here- listen to is contemporary Christian music, while the one movie that is screened at the centre once a week is reviewed by Pastor Sam first!
That sounds fair, but why no women? Girls hooked on drugs then how?
“We treat women as outpatients– they will come in, then me and my wife will counsel them. We don’t want to let them stay here because we want them to focus on getting off drugs and not be distracted by attraction to the opposite sex.” – Pastor Sam
These rules are only a part of what a brother has to submit to when he first steps into the centre. When someone first comes for treatment, they must surrender any substance that they are still holding on to. A cabinet in Pastor Sam’s office showed off stuff that people have surrendered, along with drugs that he keeps for education purposes.
We saw some legal things, like vapes and cigarettes ! How come this one also kira drugs?
“Many people think that oh, it’s just one cigarette, just one drink, I’ll be okay. But what they don’t know is that it’s a gateway drug– you start with this, then slowly you’ll need more for the same high. Plus nowadays there’s liquid marijuana, liquid meth– all this you can put into the vape to smoke. These things you can die doing.” – Pastor Sam
Rehabs in Malaysia use various forms of treatment- methadone, a replacement drug to wean addicts off other drugs (we wrote about it here!); clinical detoxes and even outpatient treatment. This rehab uses the cold turkey treatment, where the addict stops drugs straightaway. The withdrawals are rough, with symptoms like insomnia, cold flashes and vomiting. The men are put into isolation rooms to ride it out.
After the withdrawals settle, the brothers would then begin a two-year inpatient programme. Two years might sound long, with most rehab centres recommending 28-90 days, but this rehab does a long term programme where they learn coping mechanisms on how to deal with the temptation of relapse. Pastor Sam puts it this way:
“We can give them short-term treatment, but it would be very expensive. We want to follow up with them, monitor them. It’s not about drugs- I believe that everyone’s got a root problem, so here we’re trying to trace what it is. It’s all about addiction replacement- you need to replace drugs with something.” – Pastor Sam
Faith aside, the brothers are taught skills, such as baking and plumbing. Pastor Sam says that teaching them these skills is to ensure that they can assimilate back into society well. As you might expect, getting a job as an ex-addict is never easy, and one of the main reasons for a relapse is when they are discouraged by rejection, so these skills might serve them well when they’re back out in the ‘real world’.
But one addict still will try to escape every three months
“We have around one escape every three months. Most of the time they will jump over the gate and run, or sometimes they’ll escape during work therapy. What we will do is that we will send our guys (staff) to go and ‘catch’ them, then we will put them back into the isolation rooms- that is how we discipline them. ” – Pastor Sam
Coming into rehab is not always the addict’s choice. Some are forced by family or friends, some are brought in by the centre’s staff itself (with the family’s permission, of course) and only a few actually come in here by their own will. This 16-year-old chain smoker was forced to be at the centre for the first few months of the programme:
“My family wanted me to come here. [The staff] came to my house and brought me to the centre. I tried to fight them but cannot lah. They put me into the isolation room for two weeks, then when they took me out, I tried to run away again. They caught me and put me back [into the isolation room]. Then slowly I stopped lah, too many times get caught already!” – Bryan (not his real name)
On average, Pastor Sam estimates that four out of ten brothers will relapse back into their old habits- still ALOT better than worldwide stats that 85% of drug addicts backslide. Quite a few men decide to leave the programme prematurely, and some fall back into their old habits even after graduating the programme. He shared with us this story about an ex-inpatient who was a marijuana addict.
“His brother tricked John (not his real name) into getting in. He told John that the centre needed ‘plumbing’ but we ended up telling him that hey, you’re here for treatment. After four months, the brother [that was supporting his treatment] passed away. John used the funeral to his advantage and left the centre- with no plan to return.” – Pastor Sam
Pastor Sam told us that John was far from ready to leave the programme. But since he wanted to leave, he could, on one condition– that if he ever wanted to return, he would have to pay the full fee of RM500 a month (which tbh is a small price to pay considering that the gomen spends RM35 a DAY on an addict) to get back into the programme. He never came back, and now, John is sleeping in the streets.
“Just the other day, his [other] brother called, saying that [John] is sleeping on the streets, please take him back. But I don’t want to take him back anymore. We gave him one chance, he didn’t want it, so I don’t want to waste my time with him- other people need the help more.” – Pastor Sam
Totally understandable… since Pastor Sam needs quite alot of time to monitor 50 or so brothers (both in the main rehab centre AND in the juvenile one), ensuring that none of them are running away or breaking out into fist fights. Two of Pastor Sam’s kids were in the room throughout the interview, and he leaned in when talking about how difficult his work could get.
“It’s hard. When a boy leaves the programme halfway, or even if he finishes the programme, my kids will cry, my family will cry. My family is always here, so we get close to them. We do small farewells, then we let them go. It’s like that, we cry, then we move on. What to do?” – Pastor Sam
And then, there are those moments when you can save someone’s family with… cake?!
Ron’s (not his real name) addiction to heroin, meth and morphine was so bad that he overdosed on the drugs that he had gone all the way to Thailand to purchase. His parents had given up on him and the police had sent him to this rehab. The Agensi Anti-Dadah Kebangsaan gave him a choice- rehab or jail. He chose the former.
“He had six more months in the programme, so I asked him to bake a cake for his mum. He was like, no way- he didn’t want to do it! But he did it in the end, a lemon cheesecake I remember. Then we called the mum to come, but she didn’t want to come, she’d already written him off and didn’t want to have anything to do with him.” – Pastor Sam
With tears in his eyes, Pastor Sam continue to tell us how Ron’s mother eventually relented and decided to come to the centre only to see a cake waiting for her.
“She cried, he cried. She like cannot believe how badly she thought of her son. She had written him off, didn’t want to have anything to do with him. And now he was baking a cake for her! Now, they’re good buddies, she’ll always come here to see him. He’s a site supervisor for a company, and he’s getting married end of the year.” – Pastor Sam
When we paid the centre a visit, we saw some of them sitting around playing cards, some reading the newspaper, and the younger ones doing their homework from school. A few others were working on fixing a car lock, and a few others were baking- all part of the goal of making them learn new skills that would help them in the ‘real world’.
Another 28-year-old Mark (not his real name) used to be hooked on smoking, meth and marijuana, stealing dough to buy it; but now says that he’s ‘transferred’ his addiction to baking– rolling dough instead!
“Before this, I used to work in a bank and stole money, at least RM10,000. But since joining the programme, my life has been transformed. I was given the chance to join bakery and Sister (Lee-Ann Krishnan, Pastor Sam’s wife) taught me how to bake. Now I can bake cake, bake bread. I am very interested in baking, and even when I go out from here, I will know what I want to do, because my addiction is baking.” – Mark
37-year-old Moses (not his real name) is another brother who used to be addicted to marijuana and couldn’t function without it. He spoke to us about how he learnt a lot at the centre that he didn’t know before:
“The programme has not been easy. A lot of things I’m doing, I’ve never done before in my life, like sweeping, washing toilet. But it’s good la, one day I can help my spouse to do all these things. Sometimes I feel like I’m not in the programme for myself, but what keeps me going is my family. I don’t want to hurt them anymore.” – Moses
Pastor Sam emphasised his passion for helping broken families be at peace with each other, as well as wanting to educate the younger generation by setting an example for them. This is what continues to spur him on.
“I want to prevent families from being shattered, and it starts with the younger generation. Patriotic a bit lah, but I want to educate them because they are the ones who will carry on what we have already started.” – Pastor Sam