Australians addicted to methamphetamine (known by the slang 'ice') have been turning to an unconventional treatment centre in Thailand – a temple where people spend a full week vomiting to cure themselves. The Thamkrabok Temple – or Vomit Temple – is the subject of a documentary on Australian broadcaster SBS.
Last Resort Rehab looks at the Wat Thamkrabok Temple which started functioning as a rehabilitation centre in 1959. The programme consists of Buddhist meditation, relaxation, the consumption of a secret detox herbal potion, and induced vomiting.
Addicts must swear off a list of drugs and take a vow, the breaking of which is said to carry a curse. The secret potion includes around 120 different herbal ingredients that causes people to vomit. And people on the programme must continue the treatment for five days.
Steve from Perth, one of the addicts in the documentary, said: "The routine at the temple involves going out to the yard to help with daily tasks, meals and then, of course, there's the vomiting. Vomiting is at 3pm every day. Foreigners must vomit for the first five days. The vomiting is intense.
"The mixture the monk gives you tastes horrible - it's pretty rank. It looks shocking and it's very... pepper hot. I wouldn't have a clue what's in it, but you just knock it back and then start drinking as much water as you can, more is better. It just upsets your stomach and you'll vomit – a lot."
The film looks at how Australians are increasingly turning to Thamkrabok to treat their addiction. Over recent years, the nation has become known for its problem with the drug ice, with over 70,000 dependent users (the third highest rate of users in the world).
The documentary states that the Australian government – despite investment in programmes - is not doing enough to tackle the problem of addiction and this has led people to turn to alternative treatments like Thamkrabok.
Simon Mott, former addict and founder of the Hope Rehab Centre in Thailand, said: "I need to be grateful for the Australian Government for not providing adequate treatment. We've been able to build a strong foundation of having a lot of clients come from Australia."
A recent report in the Herald Sun said one charity has called on the government to introduce forced rehab and criminalisation of consumption – similar to the laws seen in Singapore. Reverend Angel Roldan, who runs a charity which supports drug addicts, said: "It is a different culture but the problems are the same ... the amount of money we invest in drug programmes in Australia is crazy and the programmes don't work."
However, Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, said this is not the way forward. He too pointed to a system that is not working in a comment piece for the Guardian, but said decriminalisation is the key to reducing addiction: "Current funding for drug treatment is estimated to be only half of that needed. The quality of drug treatment must be raised to the same standard as any other health services ... It's time Australia started reducing the emphasis on criminal sanctions. Even senior police now say this. It's time to raise the threshold quantities that trigger charges and time to reduce the severity of penalties."