Massage, snorkelling at Sabah rehab centre

Patients at Solace Sabah drug rehab centre doing yoga as part of their recovery.
Patients at Solace Sabah drug rehab centre doing yoga as part of their recovery. PHOTO: SOLACE SABAH

It looks like all the other bungalows in the quiet residential area in Kota Kinabalu. There are no signboards and the entrance gates look just like the neighbours'.

But it is home to Solace Sabah, a drug rehabilitation centre which caters to regional clients, including from Singapore, and even from as far as Saudi Arabia and France.

This discretion is deliberate, said Dr Prem Shanmugam, the centre's chief executive, who is Malaysian and a permanent resident in Singapore. Patients, who include high-profile celebrities and even judges, want their treatment to be confidential, he explained.

The centre is under 24-hour surveillance, added Dr Prem, who set up the centre in October 2013. The 0.8ha facility, which The Sunday Times visited, can house a maximum of 30 patients, but tries to limit the number to between 15 and 18 so that each can get more clinical attention. They pay between US$5,900 (S$8,300) and US$14,900 a month, although the centre offers pro-bono help in some cases.

The centre has admitted over 170 patients so far. It has doctors, counsellors, security guards and cooks on site. Of the 45 employees, 15 are clinicians. Rooms range from those shared by four people to spacious suites which include a living area and ensuite bathroom. Meals are provided by the in-house cooks.

A typical stay lasts two months. Solace Sabah currently has two people from Singapore at the facility.

Before their stay in the bungalow, clients go through "cold turkey" - a detoxification process to be weaned off their physical dependency on drugs - at a local hospital.

At the centre, they are treated for their psychological dependence on drugs. The clients have breakfast at 8am, before embarking on a day's programme of workshops, counselling, exercise, including yoga, and body massage.

The use of phones and computers is limited to the evenings, and allowed only if counsellors believe the patients are ready for contact with the outside world. On weekends, they explore the surrounding islands, go snorkelling or parasailing. There are even river cruises.

Former prescription drug addict and alcoholic Sarah (not her real name) said she went to Solace Sabah after years of counselling in Singapore failed to help her quit a 20-year problem. "I just couldn't stop," she said.

After finishing her rehab at Solace in February, the 52-year-old administrator said she has been clean the last 11 months.

Kok Xing Hui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 29, 2015, with the headline 'Massage, snorkelling at Sabah rehab centre'. Print Edition | Subscribe