Sunday December 8, 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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Thailand’s Prime Minister Urge Residents of Bangkok to Wear Face Masks after Smog Cover Parts of Capital

He also asked the construction and manufacturing sectors to reduce activities that release pollutants

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Thailand, Prime Minister, Bangkok
A thick layer of smog covers Lumpini Park in central Bangkok, Thailandy, Sept. 30, 2019. VOA

Thailand’s prime minister urged residents of Bangkok to wear face masks on Monday after smog covered parts of the capital in what some fear is a harbinger of more pollution to come.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha warned in a statement on his Facebook page that the concentration of tiny dust particles called PM2.5 in the air had reached unsafe levels and said he has ordered government agencies to expedite anti-pollution measures. He also asked the construction and manufacturing sectors to reduce activities that release pollutants.

Smog levels are expected to stay high for the next two or three days.

The head of the country’s Pollution Control Department, Pralong Damrongthai, said the visibly dirty air was not caused by smoke originating from forest fires in Indonesia. Since last month, haze blown by monsoon winds from fires in Indonesia has affected nearby countries including the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and parts of southern Thailand, raising concerns about aviation safety and health.

Thailand, Prime Minister, Bangkok
Thailand’s prime minister urged residents of Bangkok to wear face masks on Monday after smog covered parts of the capital in what some fear is a harbinger of more pollution. Pixabay

Indonesian officials say they have made progress in containing the fires, including successful efforts at rainmaking, which they say reduced the number of fire “hotspots” from more than 5,000 about two weeks ago to 491 on Sunday.

Thailand’s Pralong told Thai PBS television that the problem in Bangkok is due to still air and high humidity becoming loaded with ultrafine dust from vehicle emissions, construction sites and other pollutants. He said it was then trapped close to the ground by a blanket of warm air in what meteorologists call an inversion.

Thailand’s government has set a safe level of 50 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter of air, although other countries have lower limits. The Pollution Control Department’s website put Monday’s level as high as 79 micrograms.

PM2.5 particulates are small enough to be sucked deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, and can cause respiratory problems and may raise risks of cardiovascular disease and cancers.

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It’s the second time this year Bangkok has been blanketed with a cocktail of pollutants. Smog levels also spiked back in January.

Pralong acknowledged the pollution levels might shoot up again in January and February, during the dry season, when farmers burn fields to make way for new planting, another factor that contributes to the problem. He said his department and other units are preparing more stringent measures to better handle the problem than earlier this year.

As the noxious smog settled over Bangkok, many residents fished out masks from drawers and went about their business.

“A lot of my friends are saying they come to the office, their noses are running. Their eyes really hurt. All of them are really coughing today. It’s not normal anymore,” said Piyavathara Natthadana, an office worker who was wearing a mask.

Thailand, Prime Minister, Bangkok
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha warned in a statement on his Facebook page that the concentration of tiny dust particles called PM2.5 in the air had reached unsafe levels. Pixabay

“There’s not much we can do. We have to monitor the news and protect ourselves,” said Chakrapong Sanguanjit, another Bangkok resident walking downtown with a mask on.

Some environmentalists blamed the government for failing to act fast enough, despite being well aware of the issues.

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“The cause of the problem is the same. The sources of the pollution are the same. But measures to control the sources of pollution are not implemented yet because they said that takes time,” said Tara Buakamsri of the environmental group Greenpeace. (VOA)