Drug Abuse: Economic and Geographic dimensions

Government of India has in recent times launched a massive crackdown on supply channels of illicit drugs and come down heavily upon traffickers showing zero tolerance and according severe punishments to those found involved in the trade
"This menace is assuming dangerous and alarming proportions particularly in northern border states like Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and of late in the UT of J&K."
"This menace is assuming dangerous and alarming proportions particularly in northern border states like Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and of late in the UT of J&K."Special arrangement

Vulnerability of the entire country in general and J&K in particular in serving as a transit route and consequent hotspot of narcotics drugs and psychotropic substances becomes evident from the fact that our country is sandwiched between the golden crescent nations including Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan and golden triangle countries like Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, that have historically been the hubs of opium cultivation since ages.

Though India had been used as a transit route by the drug traffickers since a long time, till recent times it had itself remained untouched by this scourge but not so any more.

Now as a result of the rising greed of the peddlers unfortunately it has transformed from a transit route to a destination for narcotics and illicit drugs though Govt. of India is countering this menace with an iron hand and taking all necessary measures to eradicate it from its roots.

This menace is assuming dangerous and alarming proportions particularly in northern border states like Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and of late in the UT of J&K.

Earlier Punjab was considered as No.1 state in drug addiction but as per the available figures it appears that J&K has replaced Punjab from the top slot now since we have more than 10 lakh drug abusers of whom more than 60000 are females as per a recent survey conducted by the National Drug Treatment Centre, Ghaziabad (NDDTC), AIIMS, New Delhi.

Earlier drug abuse used to be considered a favourite pastime of uneducated people mostly belonging to lower segments of the society who would most often resort to the use of charas, bhang, ganja and sleeping pills but now there are no such class differences valid any more.

At present, drug abusers belong to all age groups, all genders, all segments of the society, diverse occupations, rural as well as urban dissent, employed as well as unemployed status, irrespective of their religious beliefs and ethnic origins. More than 90% of abusers now use injectable opioids like heroine and prescription drug abuse has now been largely replaced by heroin and cocaine.

A sharp rise has also been witnessed in the number and quantum of seizures of hard drugs like Heroin, Cocaine, LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide), MDMA (Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine), CBCS (codeine-based cough syrups), other amphetamine like stimulants, by the Narcotics Control Bureau of India (NCBI) and that too of the drugs in their injectable form.

Drug and Food Control Organization of J&K too has in a series of raids conducted in recent times on transport and courier agencies, hotels, shops etc seized large quantities of tapentadol, spasmo-proxyvon, tramadol, codeine and other prescription drugs worth lakhs of rupees.

As per the National Survey on Extent and Pattern of Substance Use in India conducted by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment through National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) New Delhi there are nearly 10 lakh drug addicts in Jammu and Kashmir that includes 108000 male and 36000 female Cannabis addicts whereas 534000 males and 8000 females are addicted to Opioids and 160000 males and 8000 females are using sedatives of different kinds.

During this survey 127000 males and 7000 females were found using inhalants and a large number of males and females were addicts of Cocaine, Amphetamine-Type Stimulants (ATS) and Hallucinogens in Jammu and Kashmir (Ref: Report of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Govt. of India, 2019).

Further the Ministry in reply to a question in the parliament has reported that out of 46 Addiction Treatment Facilities (ATFs)  established in in the government hospitals across the country, 10 are running in the UT of J&K; out of 340 of Integrated Rehabilitation Centres (IRCs) established for drug addicts, that provide treatments and supportive services like preventive education, awareness generation, motivational counselling, detoxification/de-addiction, after care and re-integration into the social mainstream to the drug abuse victims, one is running in J&K.

Similarly, out of 40 Community-based Peer-led-Intervention (CPLI) Centres that focus on vulnerable and at-risk children and adolescents and engage such children through peer educators for awareness generation and life skill activities, two are running in J&K. These important centres definitely need to be augmented in J&K in future.

Additionally, there are three Outreach-and-Drop-in Centres (ODICs) in J&K out of 71 such centres established by the Ministry across India to provide safe and secure space of treatment and rehabilitation for substance users with provision of screening, assessment and counselling and thereafter provide referral and linkage to treatment and rehabilitation services for substance abuse.

Govt. of India also supports setting up of District De-addiction Centres (DDACs) in those districts across the country where there are no IRCA, ODIC and CPLI centres. At present, 15 DDACs are supported by the Ministry out of which there are five in Jammu and Kashmir.

Ministry of Home Affairs, in reply to a question regarding menace of narcotics, informed the Lok Sabha that Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has destroyed poppy on 288 acres of land in J&K in 2018, 1123 acres in 2019, 893 acres in 2020, 292 acres in 2021 and 88 acres in 2020.

Official figures reveal that the govt. actions related to destruction of cultivated cannabis have shown an upward trend from the year 2018 when cannabis was destroyed on 37 acres of land followed by 295 acres in 2020, 523 acres in 2021 and 443 acres in 2022.

In a very frightening and dangerous turn of events govt. drug de-addiction centre established at the SMHS hospital has reportedly registered a 945 per cent increase in patients since 2016-2017.

While a total of 489 patients visited its OPD between April 2016 and March 2017, 3622 visited in the next 12 months, and 5113 patients in the 12 months after that, thus showing a whopping 1000% increase in the number of patients within a short span of three years.

Between April and June 2019, as many as 1095 more patients have visited this facility. Same is the case with the total number of drug addicts admitted to the centre. From 116 patients in 2014, the number has risen every subsequent year — 203 in 2015, 207 in 2016, 374 in 2017 and 624 in 2018.

All these figures present a very grim scenario that must serve as an alarm enough to wake up all sections and stakeholders of the society from their deep slumber, put their hearts and minds together and evolve an effective and fool-proof mechanism to curb this menace.

Since the problem is multi-dimensional, a multi-pronged approach alone can be of help in extinguishing the blazing fire. While chairing a Regional Conference on "Drug Trafficking and National Security" in New Delhi on July 17, 2023, Union Home Minister Sh. Amit Shah jee declared that more than ten lakh kilograms of narcotic drugs worth around 12000 crore rupees have been destroyed by the Narcotics Control Bureau in a single year in various parts of the country in coordination with ANTFs of all states and announced that in order to realise the dream of a drug-free India, the drug destruction campaign will continue actively in future too.

Drugs destroyed also include 356 kilograms destroyed by Jammu branch of NCB (ANI News dt. July 17, 2023). This shows the firm resolve of the Govt. of India to eradicate this menace in coming years.

So far as the economics behind this menace are concerned, as per a study conducted by the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS), GMC, Srinagar, entitled, “Prevalence and Pattern of Substance Use in 10 districts of Kashmir:

A 2022 survey” heroin worth Rs. 9 lakhs, Cannabis worth Rs. 1 lakh and pharmaceutical opioids worth Rs 1.30 lakh are being consumed in Kashmir every month. IMHANS data also reveals that in the year 2022 alone 41,110 people sought treatment for substance abuse in Kashmir which is double the number of people who sought treatment in 2021 (23,403) and it was found that heroin addicts on an average spend Rs. 88,000 per month on this drug in Kashmir which implies that almost a million rupees are spent by each addict every month on heroin (GK dt. July 7, 2023).

By those standards drug industry appears to be a multi-million industry in J&K. This study has also estimated the economic burden of heroin abuse in the two districts of Srinagar and Anantnag based on prevalence and extrapolation findings.

“The expenditure on consumption of opioids in two districts of Srinagar and Anantnag is Rs 3,74,90,329," notes the study (Deccan Herald dt. June 6, 2021). Therefore, in view of the seizure of large quantities of psychotropic substances by DFCO in J&K and of narcotic drugs by Narcotics Control Bureau of India countrywide in the recent past, a massive crackdown on supply channels of illicit drugs and substances of abuse seems to be inevitable and indispensable under the given circumstances.

Govt. of India has in recent times come down heavily upon traffickers and traders of narcotic drugs, showing zero tolerance to such heinous acts and has also accorded severe punishments to those found involved in the illicit trade. Such hard hitting campaigns need to be continued on regular basis in future with greater speed and frequency (to be concluded).

(Author teaches at the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Kashmir and holds the additional charge of Director, Centre for Career Planning and Counselling of the University)

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