Sydney Morning Herald, 18 July
Bali and Thailand – the preferred escapes for Australians wanting cheap dental work and plastic surgery – has now become a destination for ice addicts wanting rehabilitation.
( OK So the bad news is that the increase in visitors is from drug addicts – but right now we’ll take whatever tourists we can. )
Two of Thailand’s longest-standing rehabilitation centres say the number of Aussies seeking help to come off the drug has almost doubled in recent years with similar anecdotal reports emerging from Bali’s major clinic.
At The Cabin Chiang Mai in Thailand’s north, the number has grown from 24 in 2012 to 41 in 2014 and so far this year 20 Australians have been through its doors.
The figures are echoed at DARA, which has facilities in Chanthaburi and Koh Chang, with Australians taking up 40 per cent of its almost 60 beds, up from 25 per cent four years ago.
Seasons, Bali’s largest facility in Umalas near Seminyak, is reportedly experiencing a similar trend while Sivana, the island’s newest and smallest clinic set up by a Kiwi, has only had Australian clients.
Yoga, surfing, art therapy, gourmet food and meditation are all perks of a resort-style recovery, but cost is the main driver behind the Aussie influx.
“It’s way cheaper,” Sivana founder Nev Doidge said.
“It’s the same sort of trend as getting dental work in south-east Asia – cost is a huge factor.”
The centres charge half, even three times less than private rehabilitation in Australia, which can reach costs of $30,000 a month. The Cabin charges $12,900 for its 28-day program while DARA costs $10,000 for four weeks.
“The cost is quite prohibitive in Australia and we see a lot of people travelling simply because of that,” The Cabin’s Cameron Brown said.
The Australian psychologist said Bali and Thailand could also provide a cover for recovery with clients travelling under the guise of staying at a health retreat.
“It’s what a lot of people tend to do, which gives them a chance to get away from the people, places and things in the drug network and when you’re not using for a month or so, those contacts tend to fade,” he said.
Australian waiting lists of between two and six months for a public beds were also forcing addicts overseas, DARA chief operations officer Martin Peters said.
“We have small windows of opportunities to get clients engaged in treatment and if a doctor says they haven’t got anything for six months, that might just be too late,” Mr Peters said.
“With us, jump on a plane and we often get people into treatment within 24-48 hours.”
Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association chief executive Sam Biondo said the issue was an indictment on both state and federal governments’ failure to address Australia’s lack of capacity.
“The situation is untenable that parents and relatives are forced to expatriate their loved ones to an overseas jurisdiction to get what in effect is medical assistance,” Mr Biondo said.
Dr Lynne Magor-Blatch, executive officer of the Australasian Therapeutic Communities Association, said one of the concerns with overseas programs was the short-term nature of them that may only “scratch the surface”.
“You’re cut off from your normal support structures and when you come back and try and fit into your normal daily life, you don’t have the support around you,” Dr Magor-Blatch said.
Mr Peters, who has worked in the field in Thailand for six years, said there was also a dark side to the sheer demand for treatment in south-east Asia, with incompetent operators cropping up.
He said there were about five private centres in the country and a number had opened up and closed quickly.
“Look for a centre that’s had two-and-a-half, three years operation,” he said.
“Some people come thinking it’s an easy way to make money and it’s not. There’s a lot of hard work.”