The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Monday, June 26, 2006



This above all: To thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man

Shakespeare’s advice, put in the mouth of Polonius to his son Laertes, still carries weight centuries after Hamlet was written. Surabaya psychiatrist Dr Igusti Ngurah Gunadi accepts its timeless truth - but words it a little simpler for modern parents worried about their offspring becoming druggies:

“If you want to know and change your kids, first change yourself.

“Don’t blame your children if you find they’re using drugs. Understand them and the problems they’re facing as they go through puberty. This is very difficult I know, but it has to be done.”

By fiat of the United Nations this Monday (26 June) is the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. So expect many homilies from on high on the dangers of drugs and the awful fate that awaits those who indulge.

Certainly drug abuse is a major worry if figures published by the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) are accurate. The agency says 3.2 million Indonesians use illegal drugs and 15,000 die every year as a consequence.

The solution is simple and obvious: Just Say No.

That seems like plain and irrefutable common sense to the older generations who were never faced by today’s temptations. But for teenagers it’s not so easy as it sounds.

“Most people start using drugs not because they’re emotionally troubled or facing distress but because they just want to try,” Gunadi said. “Certainly that’s what they tell me.

“Usually their family situation is good, but they face pressure through their friends. The years of puberty are full of hazards. The teenager has an adult’s body and a child’s mind.

“They want to be distant from their parents to establish their own identities. At this stage they get closer to their friends than their families, but they need their parents for a home and financial backing.

“They are confused and ambivalent. They also want to experiment and be accepted by their group. If they’re pushed to take drugs and refuse, they risk being rejected by their peers.

“This can be a very big problem for most young people. They need support because they’re a high-risk group.”

Gunadi has just won a grant from the overseas non-government organisation Family Health International (FHI) to establish a counselling, education and health service called Yayasan Bina Hati (foundation to build the spirit) in Surabaya.

FHI has been supporting family planning and reproductive health programs in Indonesia since 1973. The money for Bina Hati to run a 10 month pilot program will come through a project designed to stop HIV /AIDS infection.

These deadly diseases are linked to drug abuse through the sharing of dirty needles. BNN claims about half the estimated 575,000 injecting drug users test positive for HIV and this has become the most common method of disease transmission. (The other major way to get HIV is through unprotected sex with an infected partner.)

Gunadi said Bina Hati had also been approved by the BNN which was supporting the program. A building has been selected and is now being furnished with the opening scheduled for next month.

Eighteen staff will be employed but Gunadi will continue practising psychiatry at Dr Sutomo Hospital, Surabaya’s main government medical faculty which has de-tox facilities. Now 53 he said that the creation of Bina Hati was a bid to give something back to the community after years of seeing and hearing about the problems caused by drug abuse.

“If you’re in business it’s take, take, take to make a profit,” he said. “But if you want to have high spiritual values and peace you must give more than you receive.

“Bina Hati’s slogan is ‘Serve All, Love All’. If you feel that God is in your heart you tend to make others share that feeling.”

Gunadi is a Hindu from Bali but says organised religion is not part of his project. He is also a general practitioner so can give factual health advice to people who are confronting changes in their bodies or experimenting with drugs.

He said he recognised that aspects of Indonesian culture were making disease prevention difficult. Religious leaders often think frank sex education and harm reduction programs, like promoting the use of condoms to stop the spread of disease, encourage promiscuity.

“Many schools are not providing quality teaching,” he said. “There’s a need for extra curricula classes in issues like reproductive health and drugs, but teachers and parents must be totally honest.

“For example most young people know that taking drugs can be really pleasurable so saying it’s all bad won’t be believed. They also have to know that while the emotional high can be great the downside is not. Drug taking can lead to craving, addiction and other serious problems.”

Gunadi said the government’s current ‘Say No’ campaign was designed to make the public think positive things are being done.

However it was focussing on the wrong end of the issue. It should be putting resources into education and counselling on life to prevent the development of drug taking. This should be done in the high schools.

“Much of the anti-drug campaign is talk rather than action,” he said. “We’ve got to tackle the cause, not just the problem.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 26 June 2006)


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