Facebook Parties: Killing Cult in Sri Lanka

Statistically, 6,923 persons were arrested for drug-related offences during September and October 2018, and there was a 78% increase in October as compared to September

by Aanya Wipulasena

( November 25, 2018, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) ‘It is like our own cult, you see, someone knows someone who sells hallucinogens or any other form of drug at these parties and after that everything is a roller-coaster ride’, said 26-year-old Tharindu Sameera*.

Sameera is a regular at parties promoted via social media sites commonly known as ‘Facebook parties’. This year he has been to four such events, all in coastal areas, promoted by various groups.

He said that his friends and himself are unconcerned about who hosts the event, as long as it is held on a day on which they are all free.

“So, if any of us sees a post on Facebook or WhatsApp or any other site, he informs the rest of us. Then we get together and go. It is that simple and there are so many parties these days,” Sameera said. He also said they usually know what parties are most ‘fun’.

The posts he speaks about invade social media sites. The organisers lure their clients, mostly youth, depicting tempting offers. One such post stated “Grab our special offers on food, beer and selected bottles..”, while another offered a beer free for every beer purchased. Some posts depict skimpily clad foreign women, and most allowed “ladies to walk in free”.

Sadly, little does Sameera know the gravity and complications of illegal substance use. Just last month four youth aged between 19 and 36 died due to a suspected overdose after attending a Facebook party in Wadduwa.

Assistant Director (Preventive Education and Training) at the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB) Pradeep Kumara Koholanegedara says that youth are drawn to Facebook parties as it is an emerging trend. He said the main issue at such events is that they include individuals of all age groups, and there is an open avenue for youth to get access to illegal drugs and alcohol.

“Now with the merging information technology services people have even started to buy and sell these illegal drugs online. They make payments using easy payment systems,” Koholanegedara said.

According to the statistics by the NDDCB, 6,923 persons were arrested for drug related offences during September and October 2018, and there was a 78% increase in October as compared to September. Also in October, the highest number of persons arrested- 272- was reported from the Colombo district, while Gampaha, Puttalam, Kurunegala, Kalutara and Kandy districts recorded the next highest number of drug related arrests. In addition 59.1% of persons arrested that month, belonged to the 20-34 year age group.

The Assistant Director added that most often youth start with drinking and smoking, and gradually begin the use of illegal drugs.

The National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) Act, No. 27 of 2006 prohibits the sale or offer to sell, permit or promote the sale of any tobacco product or alcohol product to any person under twenty-one years of age. It further states that the use of brand name or trade mark or any other symbol associated with tobacco or alcohol products is illegal, whether directly or indirectly.

Also, it states “a person shall not offer any prize, gift, cash rebate, discount or the right to participate in any contest, lottery or game, to the purchaser of a tobacco product or alcohol product in consideration of the purchase of that product, or to any person in consideration of the furnishing of evidence of such purchase”, and the free distribution of tobacco or alcohol products is prohibited. Nonetheless, posts regarding parties appearing on social media sites blatantly violate all these laws.

“We track such posts, and inform the relevant authorities regarding such parties,” Assistant Programme Officer of Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC) Ishara Fernando said. Thus far, from August to the beginning of November, ADIC has flagged about 130 such social media promotions of parties that violate NATA rules and regulations. Fernando said they have seen an increase in events organised through social media sites over the last two years. “The problem of this is they are available for anyone to see, and mostly teenagers and young people get drawn to them,” he added.

Such parties are usually hosted in coastal areas, but now with the Police Narcotic Bureau (PNB) in pursuit, they are moving inland. The bureau does random checks at such parties after getting information from third parties such as the ADIC or general public, and persons with illegal substances are arrested.

During a raid at a party Bandarawela police arrested 58 people aged between 18 and 35, on October 27. The party-goers were from areas such as Badulla, Moneragala, Ratnapura, Negombo and Colombo. The organiser was taken into police custody, while 57 others were released on bail. The case is to be taken up again next month. Bandarawela police told the Sunday Observer that they have requested the Courts to send the youth to rehabilitation centers, if found to be addicted to drugs and alcohol.

The police took this decision taking into consideration the fact that they were young, and the detrimental effect on their futures. In a new turn of events, Facebook party organizers have started to change time and venue of their parties when they a tipped off of a police bust.

This year, the Bureau has arrested 48,903 persons for the possession of Cannabis, 35,282 suspects for possession of Heroin, 193 with “Ice”, and 17 with Cocaine. Of the arrested individuals 33 are foreign nationals that include 17 Indians, seven Pakistanis and three Brazilians.

PNB Director T.C.A. Dhanapala said that alcohol and tobacco are silent killers in Sri Lanka.

“People think that road accidents claim the most number of lives in Sri Lanka, this is far from true” he said.

At least 43,000 people die of alcohol and tobacco related health complications annually, while 23,000 of them die of alcohol and drug related health complications and 20,000 due to tobacco. That is roughly 120 deaths per day. Road accidents are responsible for ‘only’ 3,000 deaths annually.

The most recent large scale arrest was made on Thursday, November 22 where a suspect was arrested with 1.1kg of Heroin worth Rs. 12 million, in the Kesbewa area.

“With the involvement of social media we see more and more teenagers starting to get access to alcohol and illegal drugs especially at parties that are organized targeting them,” the Director said.

He added that about 95 per cent of teenagers start with alcohol and tobacco. Currently, illegal drugs are consumed by fewer than 2% of the population.

Echoing his views, DIG of PNB SSP Roshan Wijesinghe said the most vulnerable groups who attend the Facebook parties are below 22 years of age. “Parents should be extra vigilant about where their teenagers go and whom they associate with. What we see is that most of the time the parents have no inclination of what is happening in their children’s lives,” he said.

He also said that teachers and elders have a great responsibility in preventing youth addictions.

“Youth start experimenting when they have the opportunity, and now with social media there is a great opportunity for these illegal activities. Parents and elders have to be alert of youth behaviour to stop them,” he said.

PNB with the aid of NDDCB is conducting awareness programs in schools, institutes and Universities under its Prevention, Detection, Prosecution and Rehabilitation initiative. Special Drug Preventive Committees were set up in secondary schools across the island.

The PNB will launch a hotline to encourage the public to alert it of drug related activities. The hotline will be made public in two weeks time.

*Name changed to protect the identity of the source.


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