Lone Rehab Sweats In Indonesia's Harsh Drug Climate

Lone Rehab Sweats In Indonesia's Harsh Drug Climate

By Tony O'Neill 09/06/11

Amid some of the most punitive drugs laws in the world, one rehab pushes a more enlightened approach to addiction.

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World's 4th largest population has drug problems. Photo via

Indonesia is undoubtedly beautiful, but drug users beware: the world's most populous Muslim nation has some of the strictest drug laws on the planet. In 2009 its parliament voted in a series of draconian amendments like criminalizing parents who fail to report their drug using children to the authorities, and up to nine years' jail for possession of even tiny amounts of narcotics. In such an atmosphere, the victimization of drug users has become routine—a 2009 Inside Indonesia article exposed the Indonesian police’s routine sexual abuse of female drug users, often forced to choose between a prison sentence or sexually servicing the arresting officers. The “Bali Nine” case caused international consternation when nine Australians were arrested on suspicion of heroin smuggling, and several of them faced the firing squad as a result (appeals are pending, but clemency looks increasingly unlikely).

In such harsh conditions it's doubly encouraging to see a sliver of hope emerging, in the form of Yayasan Harapan Permata Hati Kita—“Yakita” for short—a non-profit recovery center in Bogor with 14 other locations throughout Indonesia. The name means “Hope Foundation for All Loved Ones,” and it sounds apt. The Jakarta Globe recently profiled this pioneering treatment center, where the lives of some of the world's most marginalized drug users are being transformed thanks to the dedication of psychologist David Gordon, and his wife Joyce Djaelani Gordon. When the husband and wife team founded Yakita in 1999 there was only one other treatment center in the country. Twelve years on, and still no other facilities offer the kind of holistic approach that Yakita borrows from US centers. Gordon theorizes that this stems from poor infrastructure, and a basic lack of understanding of drug addiction. “In Indonesia, there is no language for it,” Gordon explains. “They don’t understand the process. This is too new.” As in other countries, Indonesia's punitive approach has hardly been backed by results. Amphetamine abuse is at an all-time high, and overall drug use is spiraling. According to the National Narcotics Agency there were 3.6 million drug users in Indonesia in 2009, and that number is expected to pass five million in 2011. It may be time for the rest of the country to take note of Yakita's example.

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Tony O'Neill, a regular contributor to The Fix, is the author of several novels, including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. You can follow Tony on Twitter.

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