Humane Addiction Treatment in a Land of Violence

Addiction Treament in a Refugee Camp


Trauma, stress, loss of opportunity and freedom are some of the root causes of drug and alcohol abuse for the ethnic minorities of Myanmar. It must be remembered that all the beneficiaries are victims of war and are traumatized by that war either directly or indirectly.

Ethnic communities from Myanmar have suffered from decades of conflict and war crimes committed by the Burmese military, including widespread arson, rape, torture, extra-judicial executions, slave labour and being used as human shields and human mine clearance. Rates of human-trafficking, forced labour and forced migration in these communities have increased with the economic hardship of COVID 19 and now the escalating conflict after the Burmese military coup of Feb 2021. This includes sex-trafficking and forced prostitution in casinos being run by Burmese military aligned militias operating on the Myanmar side of the border. This is causing wide scale generational trauma and in many cases leading to addiction.

Addiction rates in these communities (as high as 80% in some villages) have been further exacerbated due to the mass production of ‘yaba’ methamphetamine pills in the Golden Triangle region. Myanmar is the world’s largest producer of methamphetamines and the second largest producer of opium, according to UNODC.  Production of illicit drugs in Myanmar has ramped up further in the last year, driving prices to rock bottom. There is a substantial drug trade between Myanmar and Thailand. Some of the drugs pass through the refugee camps on their way to their markets in Thailand and internationally. Some junta-aligned armed groups are involved in the manufacturing and distribution of drugs along with the military junta. After the coup, drug dealers have free range, and drugs are now widespread on an unprecedented scale.

Alcoholism is also a major problem in refugee communities, as people find themselves confined with no livelihood or hope for the future. The situation continues to deteriorate. Escalating war crimes by the junta and the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, including air strikes against civilian communities and schools, is likely to cause a tsunami of trauma and suffering.

Government infrastructure, especially health, is in a state of collapse after the coup. Health workers and doctors providing care outside of the government bureaucracy have been arrested, imprisoned, tortured and murdered by the junta. Provision for addiction in the country has gone from minimal to practically non-existent. Government-run recovery centers – to the degree that they exist – uniformly prescribe medical drug-replacement therapy and electro-shock therapy as the main form of ‘treatment’, which is not humane. In rural areas, drug & alcohol addicts are often chained up and forced to work, exercise and practice religion (not always their own), as treatment for addiction.

The current situation is a crisis of unprecedented magnitude, and there is an urgent need to ramp up humanitarian capabilities as people flee over the border into Thailand. DARE Network is the only organization providing comprehensive addiction services to the displaced people of Burma on both sides of the Thai/Burma border. We are a local grassroots CSO and have been working in ethnic refugee communities on the Thai-Myanmar border since 2001. We operate in 5 refugee camps and one migrant village in Thailand; and have one centre in Karen State, Myanmar serving over 40 villages. We offer Addiction prevention education and addiction treatment. We reach over 20,000 people a year with our addiction prevention programs. We treat over 300 people a year in intensive 3 month treatment programs. We have a non-relapse rate of over 60% compared to 25% in North America.

DARE’s recovery approach is humane, non-medical, culturally appropriate, and locally led. Our work is humanitarian, bringing the provision of food, treatment materials, sanctuary and humane addiction treatment. Our work is also cross-cutting. Addressing addiction decreases poverty, increases capacity for education, reduces health problems and the impact of violence of all kinds. It empowers people to transcend their trauma from experiences of human rights abuses, trafficking, displacement, and conflict. Mental health is also a fundamental human right. Our motto is ‘a free mind cannot be destroyed’.

Humane Addiction Treatment in a Land of Violence
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