Why Bali is becoming a haven for drug users seeking help

Mitch Bartrum was 13 when he tried illegal drugs for the first time.


“I started at a young age smoking weed, then went to pills, then speed. I was one of those kids who could never just stop, you know?” he says.

As a young adult he developed a methamphetamine addiction that slowly consumed his life.

“I tried everything I could do to keep this habit going, everything,” he says.

“I was a compulsive liar. I used all the money for my business. What money I didn’t spend on drugs, I spent on the pokie machines… trying to win money to keep going.

“It just got to the point where there was no other choice for me besides to come here, or go to jail or die.”

It was his father who eventually convinced him to seek help at a rehabilitation facility.

The family chose Sivana Bali, an eight-bed rehabilitation clinic located on the Indonesian island better known to Australians as a party destination.

Drinking is prevalent on the main streets of Kuta while police patrol for drug deals in the murky laneways behind them.  

Coming to a country with a notoriously tough stance against drugs wasn’t a deterrent, Mitch says – in fact, it was encouraging.


“I’ve always been too scared to touch drugs or anything like that, because of the laws here.”

“So I knew that coming here was probably the best idea that my dad had.”

Chanel, from Perth, is at Sivana for a month-long stay. 

The 31-year-old, also a former meth user, says she reached “rock bottom” before realising she needed help. 

“I’d gotten into legal trouble, I’d lost my job, I’d lost my license,” she says.

“I wasn’t living a normal life, and I realised I was pushing away a lot of people I cared about, that cared about me.”

For Chanel, rehab in Bali appealed because it was far away from home.

“I needed to get away, really,” she says.

Siva Bali co-owner Nev Doidge says some clients are drawn by lower costs and shorter waiting lists compared to back home.

“The waiting lists in Australia are huge. Methamphetamine [reduction], along with a lot of other substances, isn’t getting any better,” Nev said.

“The cost factors; what we can offer here in Bali as opposed to Australia is vastly different.

“We have villa complexes, all of our staff are fully qualified in what they do, and the environment [is calm].”

The company has treated around 140 people since it opened two years ago. Almost all have been Australian.

Indonesia amended its narcotics laws in 2009. Many of the changes, including forced rehabilitation for declared drug users, have been controversial.


Despite tougher penalties being enforced for dealers, Nev says Indonesia is beginning to embrace drug rehabilitation.

“The change here in support for rehabilitation has been huge in Indonesia,” he says.

“There’s been a big shift in the last few years in that kind of thing.”

Sivana’s Program Director Nadine Winter says the next challenge for clients will be returning home.

“It’s a big part of what we do here, teaching people how they’re going to manage their lives once they go home,” she says.

Though she is still receiving treatment, Sivana client Chanel says she believes she’s made the right choice.

“I feel at peace. I feel calm. I feel happy. I wake up in the morning and I’m like, yay, you know?

“Whereas I didn’t even want to wake up for the days really, before I got here. I didn’t even want to face the day.”

Mitch will soon be heading home to Australia, and says he’s grateful to his family for the experience. 

“Every time I pushed them away, they were still here. I would have lost everything if it wasn’t for them.”

Schapelle Corby leaves Bali villa

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