BY DR. MUSHTAQ RATHER
Drug addiction, since last decade, has exploded like a volcano and has taken everyone by shock; unleashing catastrophic consequences not only on drug abuse victims but on entire societal fabric. It is primarily the collective failure of the society.
As an integral stakeholder of the society our approach unfortunately has been disappointing in taking cognizance of any such activity taking place in our vicinity; ignoring its fatal consequences.
We think that drug menace is not related to my immediate family members and therefore why raise voice against it. This denial approach has facilitated drug menace to penetrate deep into the societal set up. Now the situation seems to be out of our control as we have good number of youth to drugs.
The geographical coordinates of Jammu and Kashmir are such that the transit of drugs is easily possible across it. Kashmir valley is thought to be the hardest struck place with drug abuse.
The factors that contribute to the drug menace are multidimensional, ranging from unemployment, conflict-laden past, peer pressure, unfulfilled aspirations and expectations of parents from their children, poverty, and corruption.
It has been reported by researchers that tobacco, cannabis, alcohol, benzodiazepines (sleeping pills like alprax, valium), opiates (like codeine, heroin, morphine) brown sugar, inhalants (like fevicol, SR, glue, paint thinner, petrol, shoe polish etc. ) are the major drugs of abuse in Jammu and Kashmir.
Drug addiction has assumed alarming proportions and is increasingly becoming a matter of grave concern, ruining lives of tender souls. There has been a sharp rise in the consumption of hard drugs such as heroin and other opioids.
The data tabled by Union Minister for social justice and empowerment in the parliament send chills down the spine as nearly 10 lakh people of Jammu and Kashmir are victims of drug menace, which has over the years seen an unprecedented upward trend.
The ministry further cited that 1.44 lakh people in Jammu and Kashmir are active consumers of cannabis with a shocking figure of 36000 females as co-contributors. This is an utter shock to every conscious soul of the society as the most vulnerable section of the society is increasingly falling prey to the menace of substance abuse.
5.34 lakh men and substantial number of 8,000 women are involved in opioid addiction. Furthermore 1.6 lakh men and 9000 female folk are victims of sedative addiction.
A recent survey conducted by Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS), Srinagar came up with stark revelations that UT of Jammu and Kashmir has even surpassed Punjab, considered by some as the drug menace capital of India.
As per the official figures of Jammu and Kashmir Government, 41,110 drug addicts sought treatment for drug abuse in Kashmir in 2022 as compared to 23,403 a year before, which is nearly double the figure of 2021.
Dr Yasir Rather, Professor of Psychiatry at IMHANS, Srinagar voiced his opinion that the primary reason for sharp increase in number of addicts coming forward for treatment was cost escalation of heroin owing to decrease in its supply.
He further added that the recorded evidences reveal that a gram of heroin would cost Rs 2000-3000 in 2022, but the cost has escalated to around 6000 in 2023.
Therefore lot of abusers are left with no choice but to seek treatment. According to a study titled ‘prevalence and pattern of substance use disorders in Kashmir (2022)’ executed by IMHANS, heroin is the primary drug in the valley.
The study further revealed that the average cost incurred by one person consuming a gram of heroin per day was to the tune of 88,183, indicating significant economic implications.
As per IMHANS, it was revealed that over two-thirds of the drug addicts have started substance abuse in the age group of 11-20 years.
Multi-substance abuse was found in 91.9% patients under study. The report further revealed that inhalant use was seen predominantly among adolescents. Nicotine, cannabis, alcohol, opioids and benzodiazepines were more prevalent in the age group of 21 to 30 years.
One research conducted in southern landscape of Kashmir valley on crucial aspect of drug awareness revealed that 94.17% respondents are not aware about the interventions of the drug de-addiction centres.
Only 3.4% respondents are aware about various NGOs working in the area of drug de-addiction and meager 5.4% respondents know about the drug de-addiction centres operating in Kashmir valley.
Such a mass scale unawareness about the operationalization of drug de-addiction among drug abusers and their associated families has even further compounded the problem and speaks about the volume of effort that needs to be put in to curb this menace.
Drug abuse and spike in crimes
It is an accepted reality that the upward trend in drug abuse cases has increasingly led to other heinous crimes in the society. Huge flow of cash is needed to procure highly sedative drugs and managing such an amount compels the drug abusers to explore all illegal ways and means for the sake of obtaining drugs, come what may.
The serious ramification of drug abuse in the current times has been the surging cases of homicide especially among the younger lot. The expert opinions suggest that it is common for the drug abusers to get into the habit of stealing from family and relatives to maintain the continuous flow of cash to buy drugs.
It is unequivocally corroborated by Dr Yasir Rather, Professor of Psychiatry at IMHANS Srinagar that the increasing crime graph in Kashmir may be linked to the spike in heroin abusers, with addicts switching to burglary and even murder in their desperation to acquire their drugs.
In the long run the addicts become peddlers to ensure seamless flow of cash. In March, this year, a 32 year old resident of Dangerpora village in Sopore in North Kashmir strangled his 70 year old mother.
The obvious intention of murdering his mother was the demand of money to procure drugs. Another similar sort of incident happened in the Gopalpora village of Anantnag where a teenager son along with his friend crushed the skull of his mother with a heavy stone and blamed his father initially for committing such a heinous crime. This incident was not a one-off incident in the Southern landscape of Kashmir valley.
The famous incident of a baker at Aishmuqam Pahalgam known across the globe for the majestic shrine of Hazrat Zain-ud-Din Wali (RA) with a tinge of spirituality literally shook the consciousness of every inhabitant.
The baker allegedly under the influence of drugs attacked his own family members and neighbours and was on a killing spree, resulting in the death of three individuals including his own mother, besides injuring seven others. This is the height of things, where we are heading as a society and still not ready to dig deeper to look for remedial action plan.
As a society we have reached to a point where we feel sense of hopelessness. To curtail the menace of substance abuse as a society we have a daunting task ahead and therefore have to formulate an out of box strategy to fight this multi-pronged war of drug abuse.
The educational institutions can render a great service in eliminating this menace provided they confront this grave challenge on missionary mode. The lack of accountability and prevalence of a favorable atmosphere has contributed manifold in the spread of drug menace.
The most vulnerable section is the adolescents who are in crowds enrolled in private tuition centers. It is high time that the administration takes certain pre-emptive measures, sensitizing them towards the problem, and making them responsible towards the students registered in their centres.
Dr. Mushtaq Rather is an Educator