Long Waitlists Force Drug Addled Aussie’s to Embark on 'Rehab Tourism'

By Zachary Siegel 06/01/15

Rehab on the beach may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

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Due to long waiting lists in Australia, drug users looking to kick their habits are finding help abroad as they check into cheap but luxurious treatment centers in Thailand and Bali. But all that beauty doesn’t come without risk. 

It’s not all white sand, group therapy, and poolside virgin daiquiris. Stern warnings have been issued about this trend by addiction experts in Australia. Some of these resort-rehabs are in countries with easy access to drugs, but it’s just as easy to be thrown in jail due to harsh penalties if you’re caught with them. This is especially true for foreigners.  

A bed in one of these posh, beachside Asian facilities runs around $12,000 a month. In Australia, however, rehabs with lesser amenities can run from $15,000 to $135,000 a month.

Brendan Pont of the Queensland Network of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies said services in Australia are “stretched,” however most people could be referred to interim help.

According to Thai rehab operators, Aussies make up the bulk of their clientele and most of them are addicted to methamphetamine. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found that the use of Crystal meth or “ice” more than doubled in Australia between 2010-2013.

One of the go to Thai facilities is called The Cabin, in Chiang Mai, and has treated more than 400 Australians since it opened in 2010.

Then there is the Hazelden-Betty Ford like megalith called the Drug and Alcohol Rehab of Asia (DARA), which is the largest clinic in Thailand. The chief operating officer at DARA said close to 40% of the clients they see at DARA were Australian’s with ice addiction. 

Addiction experts in Australia look down upon the beachy rehabs in Thailand because consumers do not know what kind of treatment they are getting. The standard of care in Australia is closely regulated by federal oversight.

“It might be cheaper to go overseas but I doubt it’s better,” Jake Najman, director of the Queensland ­Alcohol and Drug Research and Education Centre, told The Courier.

“Research on treatment basically shows that most treatment doesn’t work,” Najman said. “The notion that treatment cures you is a farce. The nature of addiction is that it’s a chronic recurring condition.”

Francis McLachlan, founder of The Health ­Retreat on the Sunshine Coast, has placed warnings on his website to discourage addicts from going to Asia.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.