August 2, 2016 / 1:12 AM / 2 years ago

Indonesia wages war on drugs but cuts funding for rehabilitation

(Corrects budget for national counter-narcotics agency in para 14 for this story published on August 2.)

The head of a traditional drug addiction treatment center, Ustad Ahmad Ischsan Maulana, prays with two recovering drug addicts who sit immersed in a herbal bath in Purbalingga, Central Java, Indonesia July 27, 2016. The traditional rehabilitation centre in a village in central Java claims to have treated hundreds of addicts with a routine of herbal teas, baths, prayer, and counselling. Picture taken July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

By Kanupriya Kapoor

PURBALINGGA, Indonesia (Reuters) - Rizki Mulyadi sits half-submerged in a steaming herbal bath, hands folded in his lap and head down.

Mulyadi hopes the concoction he is bathing in – and the Islamic teacher who makes it – will help him overcome a six-year addiction to the drug of choice for many in Indonesia: crystal methamphetamine, or “meth”.

The traditional rehabilitation center in Purbalingga village on Java island says it has treated hundreds of addicts like Mulyadi, 26, with herbal teas and baths, prayer and counseling.

President Joko Widodo says drugs pose a bigger danger than Islamist militancy and he has ordered an intensification of a drugs war that has included the execution of drug traffickers, the latest last week when three Nigerians and an Indonesian faced a firing squad.

But while raids, arrests and punishments pick up, state funding for rehabilitation, that weans people off drugs and cuts demand, is dwindling.

That leaves thousands of people like Mulyadi with few affordable options in a country that within years has gone from being a drug transit point to one of Southeast Asia’s biggest markets for narcotics.

“We need support in terms of budget to be able to rehabilitate all drug users in need,” Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indra Parawansa told Reuters.

“Our budget alone is not enough for that, it is experiencing a decline.”

The government estimates there are six million drug users in the country of 250 million people. Of those, more than 1 million are addicted to meth, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said in a 2013 report.

But less that one percent of dependent users got treatment in 2014 compared with a global average of 16 percent, it said.

Indonesian law mandates rehabilitation for people caught with small quantities of drugs. But many end up in crowded jails.

“Many of those who are in prison should not be sentenced to prison at all, they should be sent to rehab,” Parawansa said.

Parawansa’s ministry aims to rehabilitate 15,000 drug users this year on a budget of 87 billion rupiah ($6.6 million). Next year, it will only get funds to help 9,000, she said.

While rehabilitation funding has been cut, the president has tripled the budget of the national counter-narcotics agency, known as the BNN, to 2.1 trillion rupiah ($160 million). It also draws on the police budget.

A spokesman for Widodo, asked about the cut to rehabilitation spending, said many areas were seeing tighter budgets, and it did not mean the president did not value rehabilitation.

“The president is concerned about how to prevent the spread in drug use and rehab program are part of that,” said the spokesman, Johan Budi.

“We need to be hard on smugglers and traffickers, and that explains why the president is taking a hard approach, but that doesn’t mean the war on drugs is at the expense of rehabilitation. Both law enforcement and rehabilitation are happening at the same time.”


Indonesia is not the only country to take a hard line.

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has also declared a drug war and about 300 suspected dealers were shot dead in July, most in vigilante killings, police say.

Thailand has also for years been tough on drugs but its soaring prison population has recently prompted a re-think and the downgrading of meth from a Category 1 drug to reduce numbers in jail.

Critics say Widodo’s stand on drugs criminalizes victims and makes the path to recovery that much harder.

“They want to build more prisons but they should be building more rehab centers and making more treatment options available,” said Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch in Jakarta.

The center in Purbalingga is one of 160 such facilities across Indonesia that use traditional methods. There are 18 government rehab centers and almost 400 private ones and public clinics using more conventional means.

Ahmad Ischsan Maulana, head of the Purbalingga center, said his clients must stop all drugs when they arrive.

“I get them to quit immediately and replace their intake with herbs,” he said.

“That relieves withdrawal symptoms without side effects,” said Maulana, known as “the boiling teacher” because of the hot baths.

His small complex of dormitories houses about 30 people.

“What’s important is our faith in Allah who is the only one that can heal us. No doctor can heal us of drug addiction.”

He says none of this clients has come back but he does not monitor people after they leave.

Mulyadi said he was determined to stop drugs.

“I’ve come here to rebuild my relationship with my family,” he said, showing off a tattoo on his chest of his five-year old son.

Editing by Robert Birsel

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