'Thai heroin detox worked for me'
A report commissioned by a Reading-based charity has suggested a high level of success for a course of treatment which sees drug addicts sent to a Buddhist monastery in Thailand.
East-West Detox had its NHS funding stopped in 2007 but research carried out by two universities showed 95% of patients remained drug free after treatment. The BBC spoke to a woman who was sent to the monastery by the Berkshire charity.
Sarah had been on heroin for more than five years and had slept rough at times when, in 2004, she sought the help of East-West Detox.
Thanks to the charity she was able to go through a 28-day detoxification and rehabilitation programme at Thamkrabok Buddhist monastery, a couple of hours drive north of the Thai capital Bangkok.
Like the tens of thousands of other addicts who passed through the monastery's elephant statue-topped gates over the past 50 years, she first had to go through the Sajja ceremony, which involves taking a vow never to use or promote the use of drugs or alcohol again.
For five days she underwent the detoxification process, taking a potion made from 108 herbs which induces vomiting.
Mike Sarson, who founded East-West Detox 16 years ago, said the composition of the potion remains a closely-guarded secret because the monastery wants to prevent it from being commercialised in the West.
The addicts also take herbal steam baths and receive instruction in meditation while also taking part in the life of the monastery by working and joining the monks and nuns in their chanting sessions.
"It really gets you out of your comfort zone, while the meditation is a great help," said Sarah.
She said she had previously tried to give up heroin and had been prescribed substitute drugs like Methadone and Subutex, but just found herself stuck on them.
"Thamkrabok was something I believed in and knew would help my mind, body and spirit," she said.
Mr Sarson said the monastery provides a unique treatment with a holistic approach.
"It cleanses from the inside out and the outside in and has a spiritual element," he said.
"People find themselves in a completely different environment and have a lot of time to reflect. They have to face up to their demons."
Thamkrabok means Cave Of The Teaching.
It was founded by two monks, Luang Por Chamroom and Luang Por Charoen, and a nun, Mian Panchand, in 1957 and started its detoxification programme shortly afterwards in response to the then Thai prime minister's anti-drug measures.