CHIANG MAI, THAILAND: It’s pitched as a ‘luxury tropical resort’ on its website, with its gorgeous swimming pools, massage treatment rooms, yoga studio, juice bar and stylish guest suites that comes complete with ensuite bathrooms and rain showers.
Only this is not a holiday resort, but a boot camp for drug and alcohol addicts – albeit a costly one.
Treatment at this exclusive rehabilitation centre starts from S$19,700 for 28 days or an eye-popping S$700 a night. And clients, on average, stay for at least two months.
The Cabin Chiang Mai is attracting a growing number of affluent, young Singaporean males seeking help with their drug addiction problems, some to escape the stigma of being a drug addict, others out of fear of the strict anti-drug laws in Singapore.
Mr Alastair Mordey, the centre’s programme director, said that these Singaporean addicts, who are usually under the age of 30, are “less scared of drugs than they used to be”.
“They travel more widely and some of them, who were educated abroad, have a slightly more liberal idea of drug use than was the case 10 years ago,” he told Mediacorp’s current affairs programme Talking Point, noting that these young travellers often learn how to abuse drugs while overseas.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam recently highlighted the changing profile of drug abusers in Singapore, where two thirds of the 1,347 new drug abusers caught last year were under 30 years old.
“They are students, professionals, people who are well-educated, with good jobs,” Mr Shanmugam said, adding that the problem is compounded by the rise in online drug peddling.
A survey conducted by the National Council Against Drug Abuse in 2016 also found that those below 30 were more open-minded towards drugs, as compared to a similar 2013 survey.
A RISKY - AND ILLEGAL - WAY TO COPE WITH STRESS
Talking Point visited two upmarket rehabilitation centres popular with Singaporeans - The Cabin Chiang Mai and the Solace Sabah.
The Cabin sees an average of 500 clients from all over every year, seeking rehabilitation for drug and alcohol addiction. Singaporeans make up about 11 per cent of its clients.
Many who seek treatment there value its anonymity - they are fearful they will get arrested if they were to see a doctor in Singapore. By law, doctors are compelled to inform the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) if they are treating any person for drug addiction.
Mr Mordey said The Cabin is seeing more young Singaporean men abusing methamphetamine, or Ice, to cope with the pressures of university life or their first corporate job. They believe these drugs can enhance their performance and improve their ability to deal with the stress.
“The pressures on these young people are very, very high. They think it is okay to self-medicate, to get yourself through. And if that involves taking risks by taking drugs to increase performance - whether it’s cocaine, methamphetamine, or even abusing prescribed drugs to increase your concentration - then they’d think that’s fair game,” he said.
WATCH: How one Asian high-flyer got involved with cocaine (2:35)
GETTING ADDICTS TO WANT TO BE CURED
At The Cabin, each patient gets his own room with a king-size bed. Counselling sessions aside, there are also activities such as yoga and massage treatments to help release the tension and stress of withdrawal.
The centre said that their philosophy is to keep their clients busy, and it is done in a nice environment to make them feel that they are not bad human beings and that they are just combating an illness.
“There’s no need to unnecessarily make an environment uncomfortable, because then you only have more barriers to convince the young person that they should be in treatment.
“That is the important thing because addiction is an illness which causes premature death and disability,” said Mr Mordey.
One drug abuser from Hong Kong, who only wanted to be known as GB, has been seeking treatment for cocaine abuse at The Cabin for some nine months, since 2016.
The 37-year-old businessman turned to drugs and alcohol while trying to cope with the rigours and stress of working in the finance industry, where he was getting only three to four hours of sleep each night. He was in his mid-20s then.
“I needed something in order to function the next day, to keep that cycle going. It was highly stressful, but I found an outlet in drugs.
“After I used it (cocaine), I felt alive, energised and courageous. I felt invincible. I liked that feeling of being in power,” he said.
But then one day, woke up in a hospital bed surrounded by policemen, and facing criminal charges for drug abuse.
“I just wanted to stop using drugs and I realised that I needed to change the way I think, the way I behave.
It’s not just drugs - it’s alcohol, compulsive shopping, compulsive eating - all these things that I use to fill the emptiness that I feel inside,” he said.
He counts himself lucky that he managed to go for treatment, and his family are also involved in his rehabilitation at The Cabin.
“I’m actually quite fortunate. I’m alive. A lot of people who have used drugs like I did aren’t alive today, and I have a chance at a better life,” he said.
REHAB CENTRE LOCATION A SECRET
Over at The Solace in Sabah, secrecy prevails - its location is kept under wraps, even to its customers. Founder Prem K Shanmugam said clients prefer the anonymity.
Similar to The Cabin, this rehabilitation centre provides accommodation, food, physical activities and excursions as part of its treatment, which costs from S$9,700 to S$19,500 for a 28-day stay. Some 20 per cent of its 700 clients are Singaporeans.
Mr Shanmugam said that the majority of his clients are working adults, from their mid-20s to late 30s, and the most common addiction problem is the abuse of methamphetamines.
The centre is popular with Singaporeans because of the proximity and cultural similarities. “They want somewhere where they can be comfortable. Malaysia is just next door and culturally, the food and everything is pretty much the same,” he said.
“Here they can get treated and return home, and we will protect their anonymity and their confidentiality.”
But experts warn that under the Misuse of Drugs Act, it is a crime for Singaporeans and permanent residents to take banned drugs, even if they do it overseas.
Defence lawyer Kalidass Murugaiyan from Trident Law Corporation said: “If a Singaporean comes back with drugs in his system, and if his urine is tested positive for drugs, he will be punished like he had consumed it in Singapore.”
THREE STRIKES AND YOU’RE OUT
There’s also a two-strike rule if you are caught for drug abuse in Singapore. If you are over 21 and arrested the first two times for drug abuse, you will be referred to the Drug Rehabilitation Centre located at Changi Prison for treatment and rehabilitation.
But if you are caught for the third time, you will be prosecuted for drug abuse, which carries a penalty of maximum 10 years’ imprisonment and/or a S$20,000 fine.
Former methamphetamine addict Joshua (not his real name) can count himself lucky that he was given a chance to be rehabilitated. He started abusing drugs when he was just 12, and was on Ecstasy tablets and cannabis before he was introduced to Ice.
Arrested for drug abuse, he spent 18 months in a rehabilitation detention barrack. He said: “At that point, I thought that I could control this drug and I could stop any time I want. But actually it’s not true.”
It took seven years of taking meth before Joshua, now 33, finally decided to kick the habit and surrender to the authorities.
Joshua stayed in the Drug Rehabilitation Centre for nine months before he qualified for the Residential Scheme, where he was allowed to continue his rehabilitation from home.
He said: “In order to get this residential scheme, you need to have a very strong family support. If my wife did not support me, I wouldn’t be able to get into this scheme. So I told myself, the day I stepped out of prison, I cannot afford to lose my family again.”