Drug Abuse in the Global Village
Drug Abuse in Asia
Sri Lanka


Extent of Drug Abuse

Heroin and Cannabis are the most abused drugs in Sri Lanka. Estimated annual prevalence of heroin are 40,000 to 50,000 (U.N. 1990). Cannabis abusers are estimated to be about 200,000 (Sri Lanka 1993).

Approximately 55 per cent of the total prison population are drug abusers of which 2 per cent are females (U.N. 1992).

Cannabis is marketed as a drug for the treatment for sexual disorders under various names and people have consequently taken cannabis without their knowledge. There are no registered drug abusers in Sri Lanka (U.N. 1990).

Abuser Characteristics

Most abusers are males, however 2.4 per cent of the heroin abusers and about 5 per cent of the cannabis abusers are women (U.N. 1989).

Most abusers of heroin range from 18-35 years of age whereas most abusers of cannabis range from 20-45 years of age (U.N. 1990).

The abuse of cannabis cross all social and age strata but is most concentrated among the older low income class in urban areas (U.N. 1990). Most abusers of heroin are school drop-outs, unemployed or unskilled employees like petty-businessmen and the majority of them are from broken families (U.N. 1988).

Regional Variations

Most heroin abusers come from Colombo city and its suburbs and tourist resort areas in other provinces (U.N. 1989). Cannabis use is common among hard manual workers ("coolies") in the urban market areas and sea ports (U.N. 1990).


Some increase in the abuse of heroin was reported for years 1988, 1989, and 1992 and large increase was reported for years 1986, 1987 and 1990 (U.N. 1986-1990, 1992).

Abuse of cannabis remained stable except for the year 1990 when some increase was reported (U.N. 1986-1990).

Mode of intake

Cannabis is smoked while heroin is inhaled (U.N. 1989).

Some abusers have used valium, diazepam, rohypnol, barbiturates and cannabis in combination with heroin (U.N. 1987).



A sample survey of heroin abusers indicates that these abusers spent US$ 37 million annually on heroin (U.N. 1988).

In a study done in 1989 on 936 heroin abusers, 82 persons had injected heroin at least once and 3 were regular injectors. In addition some males and females fund their drug habit through prostitution (U.N. 1990). It is feared that drug injection and male and female prostitution would increase the spread of AIDS and serum hepatitis. There is an increase in injection of heroin in a sample of the population (U.N. 1989).

Some of the social problems such as family breakdown, crime, theft, unemployment and male prostitution are attributed to heroin abuse (U.N. 1986). Statistics are not available on number of deaths resulting from, or related to, drug abuse (U.N. 1992).



Treaty adherence

Sri Lanka is Party to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as amended by the 1972 Protocol, 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.



National Strategy

The principal law dealing with drug offences is the Poisons, Opium and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance of 1935, amended by Act No. 13 of 1984. This has some of the most stringent penal sanctions for drug offences in the world, with penalties ranging from heavy fines to life imprisonment or death for the more serious offences. The Cosmetics, Devices and Drugs Act provides for certain control systems to regulate manufacture, sale, distribution, labelling, and advertising of therapeutic substances. The Police, Customs, and Excise implement this Act (Sri Lanka 1993).

The National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB), established in 1984, formulates and reviews national policies relating to the prevention and control of drug abuse. The National Policy formulated in 1990 envisages an integrated approach to drug control with enforcement going hand-in-hand with preventive education, and treatment/rehabilitation. The NDDCB also conducts preventive educational programmes, runs treatment/rehabilitation centres/camps, provides counselling, undertakes research studies and also runs the National Narcotics Laboratory. The Board is responsible for coordinating all prevention and control activities in government and NGO Sectors (Ratnayake, Y. 1993).

The Government of Sri Lanka has declared a national policy against drug abuse and drug trafficking, in intensifying the enforcement agencies capabilities in reducing the supply of narcotic drugs. Amendments to the existing law has been accepted by the Government, and in the area of the seizure, freezing and confiscation of assets amassed by trafficking, legislation is under consideration (De Silva, B. 1993).

The State has taken positive steps in preventive education to create an awareness of the drug problem and to reduce the demand. The available special treatment/rehabilitation facilities are being further developed. Legislation is under consideration to include a provision by which drug dependents could be subjected to compulsory treatment and rehabilitation as alternate to punishment (De Silva, B. 1993).



Primary Prevention

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education carries out programmes like: (a) seminar for students/teachers/parents, to create an awareness of drug related problems, (b) poster and essay competitions for school children on the subject of drug where winners are awarded prizes and certificates, (c) radio and television programmes highlighting the consequences of drug abuse, (d) formation of voluntary temperance societies in schools, (e) a school programme where students voluntarily sign an oath of abstention from smoking, alcohol and dangerous drugs, (f) training of school counsellors in referral service through them for drug dependent students and (g) production of booklets, stickers etc. for distribution to schools (U.N. 1989).

Officers of the Department of Prisons are invited to give talks on the dangers of drug abuse to students at schools, and at Sarvodaya training programme (U.N. 1989).

Treatment and Rehabilitation

There is no provision for compulsory treatment of drug dependents in Sri Lanka. Treatment is entirely on a voluntary basis. Courts of Law, however, often refer accused/convicted persons for treatment. The National Dangerous Drugs Control Board, Government Hospitals, Prisons Department, Social Service Department, Ayurvedic Research Institute, and several NGOs are involved in treatment and rehabilitation of drug abusers (Sri Lanka 1993).

In view of the large number of persons voluntarily seeking treatment, a Short Term Action Plan will be drawn up by the Ministry of Health to deal with the immediate problem. On a long term basis the Department of Health will be responsible for co-ordinating and giving guidance to the development and maintenance of a comprehensive national treatment programme for drug dependents. The active co-operation and collaboration of the non-governmental sector and the community will be encouraged. Treatment services will be free of charge. Health care professionals will be given training in treatment of drug abusers. Legislation will be enacted and facilities will be provided for compulsory treatment where appropriate (U.N. 1992).

Treatment/detoxification will be supported with counselling, educational and other social measures (U.N. 1992). The NDDCB Project Office's programmes assist in obtaining re-employment and in obtaining vocational training for former drug abusers (U.N. 1989).



Arrests, Convictions and types of Offences

In 1992, 9,705 persons were arrested for heroin related and 4,274 for cannabis related offences. During the same year, 31 Sri Lankans were arrested abroad and 18 foreigners were arrested in Sri Lanka on drug offences (De Silva, B. 1993).


In 1990, 81.936 kg of heroin and 9,370.4 kg of cannabis were seized. In 1991, 24.767 kg of heroin and 9,997.739 kg of cannabis were seized. In 1992, the figures were 36.126 kg and 49,229.852 kg for heroin and cannabis respectively (U.N. 1990, 1992; Other 1991).

In 1992, Police Narcotics Bureau and local police seized and destroyed 72 metric tonnes of cannabis plants (Mahagamage, N. 1992).

Supply Sources of Drugs

The cannabis plant is illegally grown in the dry zone of Southern and South Eastern Sri Lanka. The total area under cultivation is estimated at 2,000 hectares. The quantity of cannabis produced in Sri Lanka is in excess of the amount required for local consumption and is exported. Kerala ganja (Indian Hemp), which is of a higher potency than the local product, is smuggled to Sri Lanka from India by sea, both for local consumption and for trafficking to other parts of the world (Guniyangoda, D. 1993).

India and Pakistan are the sources of most heroin brought into Sri Lanka. The majority of traffickers are Sri Lankan couriers who travel by air and arrive in Sri Lanka from ports in India and Pakistan. Illegal transport of heroin by sea to Sri Lanka is also reported. Fishermen using trawlers and fiberglass boats across the Palk Strait are suspected. Sri Lanka is also used as a transit point for trafficking of heroin especially to Western Europe (De Silva, B. 1993).

The Police Narcotics Bureau reports that northern terrorist groups of Sri Lanka dominate drug trafficking between India and Sri Lanka to fund their terrorist activities (U.N. 1990).

References and Notes

* The Legal, Administrative and Other Action Taken to Implement the International Drug Control Treaties section was prepared by the Secretariat of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs based on Annual Reports Questionnaires for the years .... (not yet received from CND)

Reference for general background......

U.N. 1986,1987,1988,1989,1990,1992. Replies to the UNDCP Annual Reports Questionnaire for the years 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1992.

Mahagamage, N. 1992. Country Report, Sri Lanka. International Conference for Drug Control Experts. Presented by Nimal Mahagamage, Asst. Superintendent of Police, Asst. Director, Sri Lanka Police Narcotics Bureau. Abu Dhabi, 3-8 October 1992.

Guniyangoda, D. 1993. Country Report, Sri Lanka. Model Programs for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention among Workers and their Families. Presented by Dharshinie Guniyangoda, Associate Director, Sri Lanka Anti Narcotics Association at the Inter-Regional Meeting for Project Collaborators of the Joint WHO/ILO Project. Geneva, October 4, 1993.

Ratnayake, Y. 1993. Drug Abuse Demand Reduction in Sri Lanka. Paper presented at the Workshop of National Focal Points Drug Abuse Demand Reduction: Golden Crescent Countries. Y. Ratnayake, NDDCB, Colombo. Bangkok, Thailand, 16-20 August 1993.

Sri Lanka 1993. Country Report by Sri Lanka for Senior Officials Meeting on Strengthening the Regional Network of National Focal Points on Drug Abuse Demand Reduction. Bangkok, February 1-4, 1993.

Other 1991. Obtained from one or more seizure reports provided by Government or from other official sources for the year 1991.

De Silva, B. 1993. Presentation at the Regional Training Course on Effective Countermeasures Against Drug Offences and Advancement of Criminal Justice Administration. By Bernard Oscar Anthony De Silva, Asst. Superintendent of Police, Police Narcotics Bureau, Colombo. Bangkok, Thailand, 8th-19th March, 1993.