Like other societies, Kashmir is facing a number of challenges – Unemployment literacy, exploitation, poverty, underdevelopment etc. Together all these problems pave way for another huge problem called Drug Addiction. Although there has been no head count of the persons addicted to drugs in Kashmir Valley, however, conservative estimates put it at 2 lakhs, which is not restricted to youths, but includes children below the age of 12. As per the United Nations International Drug Control Program (UNDCP) sponsored survey in 2008 Kashmir division alone had 70,000 drug users including 4000 women. Given the socio-political disturbances the population is facing, the number of substance abusers is bound to increase by every passing day. It only inflict damage the minds and souls of youth who consume it but breaks families, causing irreparable damage to the society. It has also been revealed by most of the studies that young people in Kashmir Valley use drugs because of curiosity and the belief that it will reduce their problems like stress, trauma, anxiety or depression, failed love relationships, failing exams, stress of growing up and the rest. But as per the medical terminology, any substance taken in an excessive way, becomes a dependence, which in turn becomes damaging and can have detrimental consequences. Presently the problem of Unemployment is proving fatal as 24.6% of the youth have no jobs and in order to get relieved from the frustrations, they take to drug addiction. We as a Society failed at every step to keep youth busy in constructive works and make them realize their dreams. Kashmiri Sociologist Professor Dabla captures it well by saying that, "We have lost one generation to Guns, and we are losing another generation to Drugs".
While speaking with the youth involved in substance abuse, following conditions were identified as being responsible for growing Drug Menace among Youth in Kashmir.
The desire to try new things and explore the world does not shut when puberty begins, in fact, it becomes much stronger. Youth try to do those things which they were unable to do as children. Being less closely supervised and often left alone at home for chunks of time gives them more independence to try new things. Youth are very desirous to find out how it feels to smoke or get drunk and this can in one way or the other lead them towards substance abuse for life.
Given the busy schedule of schools, colleges and workplaces, youth often get stressed and look out for ways to relieve the stress. The stress created in this manner is said to be one of the major reasons for youth getting involved in drugs and other sorts of medication. These youngsters often opt for anti-depressants to combat stress without being aware that they are entering into the substance abuse. Moreover, there is always a parental burden on the youth to get good grades, which pushes the students ruthlessly towards this menace. This also includes the stress of growing up, examination failure and failed relationships or broken relationships.
Youth growing up in families where parents or any other family members abuse one or the other drug often end up imitating them. Whenever teenagers see their parents or siblings using some substance as a solution of every problem or ailment, they often think on the same lines to solve their problems; whether personal or related to academics. In this way, these youngsters get influenced by their loved ones to use a particular substance; not aware of the long-term impact of the substance they consume.
Peer pressure is powerful force at any stage of life, but it's most influential especially during adolescence. Peers often force kids to taste drug just once, and if one rejects the offer, he/she might have to face painful consequences ranging from being laughed at, teased, humiliated, rejected and even bullied.
Socio- Political Disturbances
The political upheavals in Jammu and Kashmir, especially Kashmir Valley, over the last two and half decades genrally, and now since 2019, is a prominent factor in triggering the explosion of drug abuse. Being a witness of tortures, injuries, killings, crack downs, enforced disappearances, human rights violations, militant attacks and law and order situations, there is always a sense of insecurity among people. This continuous volatile situations in the Valley has resulted in emotional instability among all sections of society and the youth have suffered to a greater extent. Therefore, with the partial or complete sense of frustration, youth lure to substance abuse, as an attempt to run away from the hard realities of life. It is thus realized that substance abuse doesn't arise out of the easy availability and accessibility of drugs, but it has a great deal to do with the social conditions which create the demand or need for consumption of such harmful substances.
The main goal of any Drug Prevention Program for youth should be to reduce levels of drug-related harm – harm to the user as well as to others. The ways to achieving this may include preventing drug use altogether, or limiting or shaping it, or buffering the drug use from harm. The programs should be designed on the basis of an assessment of the dimensions of drug-related harm in the target population, and measurement of changes in drug-related harm should be included in the evaluation.
Community and school based Mental Health Programs/ Drug Abuse Awareness Programs with effective use of audio-visual aids can prove highly effective in eradicating the problem of drug addiction among the youth. Drug education based on general educational principles might prove beneficial.
Educational and persuasion material should be effective to target the audience as well as the people with substance abuse problems. These materials can be designed taking into consideration all the stakeholders, especially the mental health practitioners. The main aim of such campaigns should both curative and preventive, targeting both the drug users as well as the population which can fall prey to this deadly menace. In this case, mass media can prove very useful.
There is a desperate need of launching Anti-Drug Media Campaigns as those can prove helpful to push back youth from going into substance abuse. People are to be sensitized about the ill-effects of drugs, and families need to be educated to deal with the problem.
Regulatory approaches to drug markets can result in considerable success in limiting and shaping drug use. In this case, the Government run Drug Control Office can enforce blanket ban on the sale of psychotropic substances.
If we wish to see a drug free society, there is need to enforce and implement legislations on Drug Abuse, which would only be possible with the support of all the stakeholders. Moreover, the number of Drug De-Addiction Centers has to be drastically increased especially in the remote and rural areas where the drug use menace is unchecked. Proper and professional training of doctors manning the Primary Health Centers to rule out substance use disorder is the need of the hour.
Haris Abrar Kashmiri is a Senior Consultant, The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, Global Inter Agency, USA