Thursday February 21, 2019

Fighting Cocaine Addiction! Buddhist Monastery in Thailand known for its Drug Rehabilitation Program

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Turkish-German patient Cengiz takes a steam bath two days before his ordination as a Buddhist monk, at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, March 28, 2017. VOA

THAILAND, May 23, 2017: Cengiz seemed to have it all.

A high-paying job in Germany’s tech sector gave him money and prestige, but his life was spiraling out of control. A cocaine addiction had pushed him to the brink of suicide.

Desperate for escape after waking up one morning in a pool of his own blood, he found salvation half a world away at a Buddhist monastery in Thailand known for its drug rehabilitation program.

“Wat Thamkrabok absolutely changed my life,” said the 38-year-old Turkish German — now known as Monk Atalo — who came to the monastery 14 years ago and has returned several times to pray and meditate.

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“My job was really stressful and I was a slave of Western high-performance society,” said Atalo, who hopes to write a book about his experiences. Like others interviewed for this story, he declined to provide his surname.

Turkish-German patient Cengiz, centern attends his ordination ceremony at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, March 30, 2017. VOA

Program started in 1959

Wat Thamkrabok, 140 km (87 miles) north of Bangkok, has treated more than 110,000 people since it started its program in 1959, the monastery says.

“Here we have a particular way to practice Buddhism, and it fits very well into the treatment of drug addiction,” said Monk Jeremy, a 37-year-old Australian who underwent treatment at the monastery three years ago for heroin addiction.

Treatment begins with a “Sajja” ceremony in which patients take a sacred vow never to use drugs again.

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Patients then drink, for at least five days in a row, a strong herbal medicine that induces vomiting.

Vomiting is followed by a daily herbal steam bath to aid the detoxification process.

No contact with the outside world is permitted during the first five days of treatment. Patients pass the time by meditating, playing table tennis and weightlifting, and manual work such as painting and making Buddha statues.

A Buddhist monk and a patient sweep the yard at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, Feb.3, 2017, VOA

Effectiveness questioned

Some experts have questioned the effectiveness of Wat Thamkrabok’s methods.

“I cannot advocate for that type of treatment because there is absolutely no sound evidence nor research behind it,” said Brian Russman, clinical director of The Cabin, a drug rehabilitation center in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.

Patients were vulnerable to relapse without follow-up therapy or peer support, he added.

Jeremy, a Buddhist monk from Australia, inspects a Buddha statue at a workshop at the rehabilitation and detox area at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand.

Afraid to leave temple

Nat, in her fourth week of treatment, said she was afraid to leave the temple for fear of a relapse. The 24-year-old from northeast Thailand started using methamphetamines two years ago to stay awake during her night job as a go-go dancer in Bangkok.

“I can’t leave until I recover my self-confidence. The only job I have is at the bar and I need to go back to it,” said Nat, whose 7-year-old daughter lives in the countryside with her grandmother.

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Henry, a 37-year-old heroin addict from Britain, came to Wat Thamkrabok after trying several traditional rehab clinics.

“For many of us here, this is our last chance,” he said. (VOA)

Patients play ping-pong at the rehabilitation and detox area at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, Feb. 8, 2017.
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Next Story

Thailand’s Election Date Set For Late March, Fiver Years After The Coup

On Tuesday, Thanathorn told VOA the election was just a small first step in what would be a protracted struggle to wrestle power

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Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gestures the Thai way shortly after accepting the ASEAN Summit and Related Summits' hosting and chairmanship for next year in Thailand from Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in Singapore, Nov. 15, 2018. VOA

Nearly five years after the military stormed to power in yet another coup, Thailand has finally announced an official election date scheduled for late March.

It comes with mounting defiance to the army’s tight control over freedom of expression, as activists and artists increasingly risk the threat of jail to publicly demand a ballot.

Thai Election Commission Chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong told a press conference Wednesday the date had been set for March 24.

“That is the date, which is flexible enough and should be beneficial to everyone concerned. That is the main reason why we decided to choose that date,” he said.

February date

Public frustration flared when it recently was announced the long promised vote would be delayed for a sixth time because of concerns the Feb. 24 scheduled date could conflict with King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s coronation in May.

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Activists and university students gather to demand the first election in Thailand, since the military seized power in a 2014 coup, in Bangkok, Jan. 8, 2019. VOA

That excuse had perplexed many, given that pushing the date back would bring it into even closer conflict with the coronation.

A group of arch royalists staged a demonstration directly outside the Election Commission to protest the pre-coronation ballot date immediately after it was announced Wednesday.

Wide field of parties

A particularly wide field of smaller parties now is set to contest the election in a political environment that has opened somewhat since the junta relaxed wide-ranging bans on political activities in December.

It will still be a democratic election, however, that comes with many autocratic caveats enshrined in the constitution Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha imposed after he seized power from Yingluck Shinawatra’s elected government in 2014.

Major concerns include the military being able to virtually hand pick the entire 250-person Senate. Future governments also will be locked into a legally binding 20-year junta-devised development plan covering everything from national security to social equality.

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Messages from activists demanding quick elections to end military rule is pictured at a university in Bangkok, Jan. 19, 2019. VOA

Military retains control

Paul Chambers, a political analyst and lecturer in Thailand’s Naresuan University, said the military also would retain significant control over its budgets after the election through a constitution that also allowed for an unelected prime minister.

“So, there is a democracy, there are elections, but when people say, ‘Oh, Thailand’s going back to democracy,’ it’s not the same quality of democracy that used to exist,” he said.

A very powerful military that could appoint people to positions in the army previously overseen by the elected prime minister would remain behind the scenes, Chambers emphasized.

In October, incoming Royal Thai Army commander Gen. Apirat Kongsompong refused to rule out yet another coup after the election.

Thailand has had 19 attempted coups and 12 successful ones since 1932.

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A Buddhist monk and a patient sweep the yard at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, Feb. 3, 2017.

Rival parties

In addition to the Pheu Thai party aligned with ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and longtime rivals the Democrats, the pro-military Palang Pracharat Party will compete with several smaller parties.

One that has attracted considerable interest is the progressive and diverse team that has united behind 40-year-old billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s Future Forward.

Also Read: Calm Settles Over Congo After Election Result

On Tuesday, Thanathorn told VOA the election was just a small first step in what would be a protracted struggle to wrestle power from those who had controlled the wealth and power of the country for decades.

“So, if you want to correct what’s wrong over the past decade, there’s only one way you can solve that. You tackle the root cause of the problems. That means you have to deal with these structures, with this group of people. I haven’t seen any politicians trying to do this before,” he said.

“Since 1932, since the democratic revolution happened in Thailand — it’s been 86 years — and we’ve still been only this far. I believe democratization in this country will not be completed in the next year or two,” Thanathorn said. (VOA)