The last resort for addiction

NESTLED in a salubrious suburb of Metro Manila is a place they call the country club. But the membership requirements are not what you would automatically associate with the swimming pool, badminton courts, rolling lawn and palm trees. Drug addiction is what will admit you among these rarefied surroundings.

Hong Kong teenagers hooked on heroin and middle-aged women addicted to alcohol are among those who have sought treatment at New Beginnings, which could be dubbed the Betty Ford Clinic of Asia.

With very little available in terms of residential care for the treatment of drug addiction - especially for expatriate sufferers - and treatment centres in America and Britain costing as much as $200,000, Hong Kong addicts are increasingly being referred to New Beginnings.

Boasting a success rate of between 60 and 70 per cent, New Beginnings was set up by a group of well-heeled Filipinos who had sought help overseas for their addictions, but wanted to establish an affordable treatment centre in their own country.

Compared to its overseas counterparts, HK$27,300 for the New Beginnings 45-day programme is relatively affordable, but is still out of reach for many Filipinos. Established in April 1990, New Beginnings offers one place free to a local addict for every six paying residents.

Over the past 18 months since referrals began, 30 people from Hong Kong have tackled their addiction with the help of New Beginnings' counsellors.

Jayne Surry is a drug and alcohol counsellor at the Adventist Hospital who has referred many of her patients to New Beginnings.

She says one of the biggest problems facing Hong Kong is the abuse of grade three heroin by the territory's teenagers.

There are two factors, believes Ms Surry, which have caused the problem to escalate. One is the cheapness and ready availability of heroin on the streets. Hong Kong, she says, is a ''real toy shop''.

Another is a social pattern among Hong Kong's expat families she has dubbed ''high quality neglect''. But, she added, many young heroin addicts come from ''very normal, supportive families''.

The Philippines is one of the few options for adolescent residential care as most countries do not take addicts who are under 18.

Serge Grynkewich is a pre-treatment counsellor at New Beginnings and helps patients through the first stage of treatment - detoxification. He has spent the past week in Hong Kong meeting people who have been through New Beginnings' doors and talking to school children about drug addiction and its treatment.

''We have found that what keeps a lot of people out of treatment is the fear of what is going to happen to them when they're there,'' explained Grynkewich after a three-hour international school session.

''They have images of being chained to beds, locked up in padded cells and in the past this is how addictions were treated. But we believe drug addiction should be treated as a disease and its suffers should be treated as human beings that can get well again. The surroundings at New Beginnings are very deluxe,'' Grynkewich said. ''It is not a nuthouse type of thing that people imagine.'' Drug addicts who travel to the Philippines for treatment are first taken to a general hospital where they are put through a detoxification programme, which can take anywhere from three to 14 days.

The addict is then moved to the residential site where a three-step programme begins in an atmosphere described as tranquil and serene.

After a short period of relaxation, the addict begins attacking their problem by making a chronology of the drugs they have consumed and putting a total dollar value on their habit. This can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars - a figure which often shocks the addict.

''It makes them see that they have been using drugs addictively, that their consumption is not normal. It also starts them looking at the ways they have used to support that addiction.'' For complete recovery, family involvement is a vital part of treatment, believes New Beginnings. ''The disease has to be treated as a family disease. The weight of addiction has to be lifted off the whole families' shoulders,'' Grynkewich said.