Jehangir conducted a research study on drug addiction in the valley. Before presenting his analysis, we detail the ground situation (two stories)
(Mr. Jehangir Rashid Malik, 37, was born in Srinagar, and did his primary schooling at the Green Land Educational Institute in Hawal, Srinagar. He studies at the Sri Partap Higher Secondary School for classes XI and XII, and completed his Bachelor’s degree through distance mode from the University of Kashmir. He subsequently graduated from the Media Education Research Centre (MERC) of the University of Kashmir with a Master’s degree in Mass Communication and Journalism. As a journalist, he is associated with the Civil Society, a New Delhi magazine, and is the Editor of Kashmir Plus, a news and feature based portal of Srinagar. He began his career in journalism as a correspondent with the Kashmir Times, and later worked at the Daily Etalaat (English) and as a news editor with the Daily Khidmat (English). He has been awarded the Sanjoy Ghose Humanitarian Award for story writing by the Charkha Development Network, New Delhi, and has received fellowships from the Action Aid India, the Centre for Science and Environment, and the National Foundation for India (NFI), all based in New Delhi. This article is a part of series of articles to be published in connection with the fellowship offered to the writer by the NFI, New Delhi on the topic, ‘Drug addiction among females in Kashmir valley.’ In his leisure time, Mr. Malik likes watching cricket and listening to radio programs especially old melodies sung by legends, Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar Ganguly.)
Drug abuse on the rise in Kashmir Valley
Be it a way to fight personal crisis, means to wipe the mental scars or just a sign of being cool, the youth in Kashmir have fallen into the net of drugs, with such cases increasing by 35-40 per cent in the last few years.
Dr Arshad Hussain, a psychiatrist at the Government Psychiatric Diseases Hospital (GPDH), Kashmir, says the menace of drug addiction has gripped the city, with mostly youngsters falling into the trap.
“There is no doubt that drug abuse has increased in Kashmir. Historically, a low drug addiction zone, Kashmir has lost its innocence. The statistics now are alarming. Mostly youth in the 18-35 age group have fallen in the trap. Deaths are reported in young men because of opioid use,” Hussain said.
When Rasheed Ahmad (name changed) remembers how he lost his brother, he cannot help but blame himself for his death.
25-year-old Rasheed worked as a trader in Goa when he succumbed to peer pressure and became an addict.
“I was earning a lot but I thought my life was without any fun. So I started going to parties and night clubs in Goa.
There I started having cocaine and LSD,” he shivers, recalling the days.
With his condition deteriorating and addiction increasing, Rasheed’s parents brought him back to Kashmir.
“My younger brother was forced to quit studies and started working as I became incapable of doing anything. It was just after a few months, that he met with an accident and died,” he said breaking into tears. “I am responsible for his death”.
Among the drugs consumed in the valley are medicinal opiates, such as Corex and Codeine. Benzodiazepines like Diazepam, Alprazolam, Alprax and cannabis derivatives like hashish and marijuana. Besides alcohol intake seems to be picking up, Yasir Arafat Zahgeer, a social worker said.
According to a report published by a local daily, a majority of Class IX students of a famous school in the valley are hooked on to nicotine and inhalants.
17-year-old Mubashir (name withheld), who is being treated at a de-addiction centre here, has a grim look but smiles when he remembers how good he was with girls at school.
“I did a mistake once and then it became a compulsion,” Mubashir said. He was 14 when he first started taking drugs.
“I started with fluid eraser, petrol and fevicol. I was very good at studies. Everyone says I am intelligent but there is no use of it now. I wanted to become a cricketer but I wouldn’t be able to do that now, I know,” Mubashir said.
Noted psychiatrist Mushtaq Marghoob said, “There is no doubt that there is a surge in drug addiction cases in the valley. It has reached the worst level. Opiate medicinal preparations as well as heroin abuse have become the most serious problem in Kashmir over the past few years.”
According to a study conducted by the United Nations Drug Control Programme in 2008, there are 60,000 substance abusers in the Valley.
A social worker working in a drug de-addiction centre here, Yasir Arafat Zahgeer said, “In the last two-and-a-half years, we have treated 198 patients and we have had 3500 visiting patients. Our waiting list currently has 245 people.
The maximum number we can accommodate in our centre is 10. We get an average of two to four patients in a day.”
Highlighting the need for increasing the number of doctors at de-addiction centres, Dr Nadeem Nazir, Medical Superintendent, Police Hospital, in Srinagar said, “There are just a few doctors here. We lack facilities. An upgrade is needed.”
Largescale cultivation of cannabis and poppy in southern Kashmir and seizures of large quantities of opiates, mostly heroin, in different areas in increasing at an alarming rate, Margoob said.
Having started a drive to destroy poppy cultivation last year, Shamim Ahmad, Deputy Commissioner, Excise Duty and Taxation claims that there is a decline in poppy cultivation as compared to last year, which was the peak year. “We destroyed poppy spread on 2000 kanals (100 hectares) of land this year. We began the drive in April and it would continue till the end of this month. Poppy cultivation is highest in South Kashmir,” he said.
Noted sociologist Prof B A Dabla said, “There is no official figure but individual studies reveal that an estimated 30-35 per cent of the youth (15-35 years old), both male and female, have become victim of drug addiction”.
Pointing towards the spread of this menace to both rural as well as urban Kashmir, he said, “This isn’t limited to urban Kashmir or rural…it has spread to all areas now.”
With drug addiction becoming a serious problem, department of psychiatry, Government Medical College, Srinagar took a lead by conducting awareness and intervention programs in three major districts of Srinagar, Anantnag and Baramulla.
A team of experts from National De-addiction Centre, Delhi, were actively involved in this programme, Dr Arshad Hussain said.
A record number of 2500 patients were identified and a treatment plan formulated. However, many persons could not continue the treatment due to absence of proper de-addiction facilities.
Controlling Drug Addiction
Absence of drug policy has always been put forward as one of the major reasons for drug addiction in Kashmir. However some of the experts in the field of health opine that even if drug policy is framed in the state of Jammu & Kashmir it cannot lead to desired results in controlling the drug addiction among varied sections of society more so among youth.
Dr Arshad Hussain, Lecturer Psychiatry, Government Medical College Srinagar says that the primary and foremost mandate of drug policy is to ensure that quality drugs are available to people and spurious ones are seized.
“Need for a drug policy has always been felt here and it would be good if the same is put in place. This would mean that quality drugs are available to the masses at affordable prices. Scheduling of drugs is an important component of drug policy and hopefully this too would be pursued by the concerned authorities while framing the drug policy,” said Dr. Arshad.
Kumar Wanchoo, owner-Eaton Laboratories says that there are not many drug addicts in Kashmir and as such there is no need to panic on this front. He says that law enforcing agencies should look towards other aspects of drug addiction and they should not confine themselves to absence of drug policy in this regard.
“The number of drug addicts in Kashmir would be in the range of 500-1000 and as such we cannot say that situation has gone out of the hands. There is no need to panic and we can safely say that drug addiction is negligible in Kashmiri society,” says Wanchoo.
He says that people should come out of the contention that absence of drug policy is the sole reason for drug addiction among youth in Kashmir. According to him there are many factors which need serious review.
“When we talk of drug addiction and factors responsible for it, absence of drug policy is taken as be all and end all reason. This is not correct and one needs to look beyond this reason. There may be people who have fallen prey to this menace on account of irrational use of drugs, but most of them use charas, opium and other narcotic substances. This aspect is neglected by the people as well as policy makers,” said the owner, Eaton Laboratories.
Wanchoo says that government should have an idea about the number of drug addicts and then evolve a process by which these people can be rehabilitated. “What is the quantum of drug addicts in Kashmir and how can these people be rehabilitated. One needs to have a clear cut vision and policy to accomplish this task,” he adds.
Commenting upon the role of distributors and stockists in ensuring barrier free supply of medicines, Dr. Arshad says that the activities of distributors as well as stockists should be monitored. He adds that there is a need to put in place a system of checks and balances so that the whole process of supply of drugs at various stages is streamlined.
“We have loopholes in the present setup and there is no harm in accepting those. There are people who are using medicinal opiads, but these do not come under the Narcotics Act. At the same time the drug controller has less manpower and as such the concerned department has not been able to deliver its best. These are practical difficulties and they need to be overcome in quick time,” said the lecturer-psychiatry.
There are people who opine that chemists should give medicines to only those people who carry prescriptions. Their argument is that this would ensure that there is no abuse of drugs and this they believe would help in tiding over the crisis emanating out of the drug addiction.
“Not all, but most of the chemists provide medicines without asking for the prescription. Many times these chemists would even provide medicines like calmpose and alprazolam to people. Both these medicines are sedatives of highest order and a person who takes them for first time wants the same to be acquired time and again. There are instances where youth have sipped syrups like codeine in one go and still then the chemist is ready to provide him more and more bottles of this tranquilizing medicine,” says Noor Mohammad, a retired employee of health department.
(The article is a part of series of articles to be published in connection with the fellowship offered to the writer by National Foundation for India (NFI), New Delhi on the topic, ‘Drug addiction among females in Kashmir valley’.)