Why didn’t I put my foot down and stop the madness of drug addiction right there and then? Even during the time of my first addiction phase when I was in my late teenage years, I was aware of the horror stories. Instead, I just went on and on despite seeing my life deteriorating.
The answer is, perhaps, I’m in that group of people who just have to learn things the hard way; that I had to suffer first. And suffer I did.
My parents had already suspected that I might be on drugs. Besides the relative with a grudge (after I refused to lend him my motorcycle), a distant cousin had also gotten me into trouble. She was on her way to work at a supermarket one afternoon when she saw me in the company of a notorious character, Ali Afro (due to his hair), who was two years older than me. It was also very near `a wrong place’ – Leng Kang.
This was the name of the Chinese woman with the most potent heroin in Alor Star; situated between the canal behind Cathay cinema and Hotel Mahawangsa. However, she didn’t sell it to just about anyone. That means we had to get it through someone who could `score’. Ali was one, and it was quite unfortunate that this distant cousin saw me handing money to him.
When asked, I had refuted the allegations, of course; insisting that Ali was borrowing money from me. However, this time it was impossible to deny anymore – not when I was arrested with a RM5 sachet of heroin in my hand. This was the middle of 1977 when I was 17, and the very first time that I was arrested.
Actually, you have to be quite unlucky and/or careless to be arrested during this time. It was before the enactment of the Drug Dependants Act in 1983 — the only way the police could take action was to catch an addict when he was in possession of an illegal substance. If you weren’t carrying anything, the police had to let you go.
It was a source of frustration for the police, of course. So,` to even things up a bit’, they might detain you for a few days under pretext of investigating some crime or other. In my case, there was more than enough evidence to be charged under Section 12 (2) of the Dangerous Drugs Act:
“Any person who contravenes the provisions of subsection (2) of this section shall be guilty of an offence against this Act and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or both”
I had read about such cases before – fillers of a couple of paragraphs in the newspapers; and the common sentence seemed to be… 18 months in prison. I knew of one distant cousin three years older who was also addicted. He was serving a two-year sentence due for handbag-snatching.
However, there were a couple of factors that were in my favour that night of my arrest – my age and the fact I was still in school. The police were going to give me another chance – they won’t file a report! However, they were going to take me home and inform my parents. So, two detectives went – one riding pillion on my motorcycle and the other on his Vespa scooter [for some reason, many policemen and soldiers at that time favoured this].
My father was angry. But he wasn’t too surprised. He said he had had a premonition about this; of “someone – a stranger – coming to this house to tell of your being arrested”. It was the start to the stress that I was to impose on him from the worry, embarrassment and disappointment that I was to cause over the coming years due to my addiction. My elder sister was studying medicine then, and it was his great hope that I would be studying law at University Malaya a couple of years from that [By the way, had things gone according to plan, I would have been course mates with lawyer-economist De Minimis].
That incident, and the lucky break granted by the police, should have given me enough reason to pause and do something about the matter. At least that’s what any sane and normal person would have done. But addiction to heroin takes away one’s sanity – less than 30 minutes after the detectives left, I was back in town looking for the substance.
With that particular pusher in the lockup, and with my body hurting from the withdrawal, I went to Leng Kang. There was a first time to everything, and she agreed to deal with me. Hurriedly, I rode off. After stopping to buy two sticks of Lucky Strike (10 sen each) and syrup drink (20 sen), it was to the Sultan Abdul Hamid College canteen. It was almost 11PM, but there were a few people studying there.
It was a relief to smoke the cigarette spiked with heroin; with the syrup water moistening the paper to slow down the burn rate. The immediate and drastic change from drug withdrawal to the bliss of heroin high was too much for the body. Nine times out of 10, I would vomit; and that night was no exception. And after that, all the pains and aches and anxieties were miraculously lifted, and the self was in a heroin-induced state where “everything was alright”.
It is the desire of wanting to recapture this feeling again that pulls someone who might have been clean for a few years to relapse… For one who is physically addicted, there is no choice though – either take heroin or suffer from the pain and torment.
My parents saw my worsening condition, and it must have been a sorrowful period for them. They tried everything possible. Firstly, it was to a bomoh (medium) – I was “to be treated by him for a few nights to rid my body of the addiction”. This was during a time when there was no AADK, and a time when people – including addicts – didn’t really know how to deal with the addiction.
So the bomoh, with his chants and all, also provided a cigar, which was spiked with “substances to get rid of the addiction”. I was to vomit “and bring it all out”. I don’t know how much my father had paid, but needless to say, it was totally ineffective. Then my father heard about one addict who stopped by taking Guinness stout. Despite his religious upbringing, and despite my grandmother’s objections, he bought a dozen bottles of it to help me through the withdrawal. To him, it was a case of “the lesser evil”. I ended up being high on heroin and alcohol.
The hospital wasn’t of much help either. It was a time before methadone and buprenorphine (Subuxone/Subutex) made it to our shores; no thanks to the hardline, conservative stance of the government then. There was nothing a doctor could do, except to dish out valium and sleeping pills. Now these were better than nothing but were way inadequate.
My grades in school had gotten worse, and it didn’t look like I was going to get rid of the addiction. In fact, my usage had increased. I was granted a federal scholarship, and had spent almost all of it on heroin. My father, in desperation, knew that drastic measures were called for – I was to be sent to a government drug rehabilitation centre.