Kashmir fast turning into drug addiction hotspot
Data available on drug abuse in Kashmir is ‘tip of very large iceberg, say experts
Drug menace is fast emerging as the most daunting challenge, for the society and for the administrative apparatus, to be tackled in Kashmir as it continues to spread like wild fire with each passing day. Even if there is no statistical data available to show the exact number of drug addicts in the Valley, there is, however, enough obtainable and circumstantial evidence to confirm the huge surge in it over the years.
The local newspapers are witness to the unprecedented rise in drug menace as news reports, stories, police accounts, administrative warnings etc are a daily affair on one or the other page. The accounts are mostly chilling and disappointing and draw a clear picture about drug seizures, arrests of the paddlers besides stories about the victims.
A few years ago, a report published by the United Nation Drug Control Program (UNDCP), had revealed that around 70,000 people, including 4000 women, in Kashmir were addicted to drugs. Experts say that the situation has aggravated even further since that report came into the light. While as Government Psychiatric Diseases Hospital (GPDH) statistics show that 90 percent of the abuses belong to the 17-35 age groups, the definitely runs through all ages.
A panoramic view of this issue can be obtained from the fact that just five years ago about 500 people used to visit the de-addiction center of Government Medical College in Srinagar annually for treatment and rehabilitation purposes. But the number has gone, astonishingly, ten times up in past five years. Furthermore, the official figures available to ‘Kashmir Images’ suggest that more than two thousand drug addicts visited the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS) for treatment, detoxification, and rehabilitation purposes from April to November last year.
Even this number may not be correct and the problem can be much larger if experts are to be believed when they say that all drug victims do not show up for the treatment, neither are all cases reported due to the social stigma attached to the menace.
Pertinently, there are many Drug De-addiction centers established across the Valley including a major one, run by the Jammu & Kashmir police, in Srinagar.
A number of doctors and social workers have dedicated themselves to serve in this regard in terms of helping the addicts to overcome the menace and start their lives afresh. The Law Enforcement agencies are also playing their part in handling the situation and taking measures to curb the surge.
However, unfortunately, all these efforts seem lacking something fundamental as the results aren’t really encouraging and the spread of drug addiction is picking up pace rather than slowing down. Those who are working to help drug addicts to overcome the addiction say that the phenomena cannot be controlled without addressing the underlying reasons for it. They believe unemployment, poverty, prevailing political uncertainty and other such issues that ultimately give rise to anxiety, depression and frustrations, form the basis for most of the drug addicts and without addressing these issues one should not expect encouraging results.
‘Kashmir Images’ spoke with several experts regarding the matter and here are the excerpts:
It was two years ago when I first came to know that my younger son was involved in drug abuse. A neighbour informed me about it. I immediately believed the information as it took me just a moment to recall how my son’s behaviour had changed quite recently. He would sleep most of the time and was getting aggressive day by day. After listening to my neighbour, I rushed to narrate the unfortunate news to my elder son and two daughters at home. It was like everything started crumbling around us. At that time he was not at home. When he came, I took him to a separate room and asked if he really was using any drugs. Instead of responding to my question he started fighting and urging me to tell him the name of the person who had informed us about this. A few days later, we also came to know that he was involved in medicinal drug substances, as well. I was told about a medical shop where he apparently would get these medicines. I went to that shop, but the person at the shop denied it.
One evening, my son was found sleeping or unconscious, in a nearby orchard due to overdose. We took him to the hospital where the doctor suggested that we take him to a drug de-addiction center at Srinagar.
However, it was not easy to bring him to the city. We begged to him for allowing us to take him for treatment. Meanwhile, he stole some valuables at home to buy drugs. We helplessly would see him getting destroyed day by day. I started going to the doors of ‘Pirs and Fakirs’ (faith healers) crying for spiritual help. However, nothing changed. I was losing my son. One day I went to his room pleading, weeping, and falling at his feet for his cooperation to get him treated at some hospital. Seeing me in this condition, my son started crying. By then he too had probably started feeling that he was ruining his life. He hugged me and told me the whole story, which I do not want to share.
Finally, we took him to a drug de-addiction center at Srinagar, where he was admitted but the next day my son ran away from the hospital. To cut a long story short, we started his treatment again at another drug de-addiction center, a few weeks later. This time he stayed there. He recovered.
These days he is getting well. Time has healed him but sometimes I feel he is a changed person. He remains quiet most of the time. Earlier he used to talk and play with his sisters and would visit the relatives, but now he is confining himself to home. However, I am satisfied. At least he is out of danger now and in front of me.
As far as my experience and understanding of the issue is concerned, the drug-addicted people can broadly be categorized into three groups.
One group consists of those who have been inclined towards drugs due to their adventurous nature and are of the thrill-seeking behaviours, who want excitement in their lives. They are hyperactive, more curious, and more adventure-seeking. These children are basically intelligent but, unfortunately, have gone down a wrong path. I believe if they would have been provided with enough stimulation in terms of an environment of sports and other positive activities, they would have not turned to the drugs.
Another group has fallen into drug abuse while trying to get rid of day-to-day life stresses. They have negatively adopted drugs as a coping strategy and then fallen into the trap. Such kids basically lack life skills and assertiveness. They do not know how to tackle and solve problems. They are mostly unable to share their feeling with others. Our traditional family structure that used to be there would provide confidence and positive vibration to such youngsters. Unfortunately, we have lost that traditional family system.
The third group is of those who have become drug addicts due to their innocence and ignorance. Many of these victims have been told by the paddlers that drugs would help them build their body in the gym and give them enough confidence to face routine life difficulties.
That said, we as a society are facing a grave problem in terms of surge in drug abuse. We all must play our role to overcome this problem. First, we have to make sure that all the drug addicts are detoxified and rehabilitated. Simultaneously, we have to make sure that the rest of the youth is saved to fall into the trap of drugs.
First of all, we need to come out of denial. I remember when we first started the drug de-addiction center in 2008; nobody would believe that we have a drug menace here. Even the media did not cooperate with us, initially.
We must have a mass awareness campaign about drug abuse in our society and people need to support it. But it is not happening. I have been knocking at the doors of the schools, asking them to allow us to have awareness and training sessions with their teacher so that they will be able to keep an eye on the students and respond properly in case they find any student involved in drug abuse. However, schools do not cooperate. They say their students are safe. I must tell you that it was only Delhi Public School, Srinagar, which invited us to have a training session with their teachers.
We as a society must understand the gravity of the problem and play a constructive role to handle it.
The raging conflict is one of the major causes of the surge in drug abuse in Kashmir. It is a proven fact that the drug menace is one of the offshoots found at the places marred with enduring conflicts. People at such places are always vulnerable to psychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and so on. Since all of these sufferers do not get timely or proper treatment, many of them, mostly youngsters, find drug substances as a short-term remedy to cope up with these mental health issues. Then some of them get addicted to the level that it becomes almost impossible for them to give it up. Instead, they achieve a tolerance to these substances and then they increase the doses.
This is how most drug addicts fell into the trap. Sadly, until recently, our chemists would provide pharmaceutical medicines including those that could be used as a substance, without a proper prescription. Now the practice has been stopped but it has made a lot of damage in the past and many people have become drug addicts due to the easy access to these pharmaceutical products.
Availability of drugs, be it any kind, is one of the key reasons for the increase in drug addicts. For instance, at some point in the past, nobody would drink alcohol in the Valley, because of the simple reason that it was not available here. Since it is easily available a large number of people consume it now.
As far as the availability of the drugs in Kashmir is concerned, I do not know where they come from. But I can say without an iota of doubt that there is a large scale supply of drugs available here. I say this because a number of addicts are brought to us for treatment and rehabilitation on daily basis.
Change in lifestyle and family structure has also contributed to the rise in drug addiction. Earlier, we had a joint family culture, where people would find many helping hands to cope up with depressions and anxieties. In those days, kids would feel happy and vibrant in the company of their grandparents and other elders in the family. Now everything has changed. While growing up to the teenage their depression gets accumulated and then many of them fall prey to the drugs. Even some of the drug peddlers have been caught outside the schools while luring the students into buying drugs.
Lastly, I would say that we as a society need to pay heed to our spiritual health. Unfortunately, we are always after the money and materialistic things, forgetting our spirituality. We must understand that spiritual health is the most important part of our overall health.
In modern terminology, drug abuse is referred to as ‘substance use disorder’. Be it anywhere, it is not an easy issue. It is really a grave problem because it has several dimensions and risk factors for the whole society.
Scientists say that forty to sixty percent of predisposition to addiction is attributed to genetics. Others acquire it from the community in terms of peer pressure factors and so on.
The modern age is much prone to drug addiction for so many reasons. One of these reasons is that the child-parent relationship has deteriorated with the changing social values and lifestyles of the people.
Earlier parents would always be available to guide their children on routine life difficulties. However, now most of the parents go out for work and leave their children behind unattended. Today’s children lack parental supervision. Both parents and kids spend most of the time with their mobile phones and other gadgets. As the result, the child-parent relationship has deteriorated.
This is one of the reasons why many of our youngsters fall prey to drugs. We do not have statistics about the exact number of these victims because no study has been done in this regard. However, as per a rough estimate, there are more than one lakh people into the drugs. All cases are not reported because of the social stigma attached to drug abuse. I would request people that they should not shame these off tracked people. In some cases, even the family does not support them to get treated and rehabilitated. I frequently say that every father whose son has slipped to the drugs should become like film actor Sunil Dutt, who stood behind his drug-addicted son Sanjay Dutt like a rock and left no stone unturned to get him out of the mess. Once a person becomes addicted to drugs, he or she should be treated as a patient, not a criminal. These people deserve the love and care of their families and community.
In the context of the present scenario about drug abuse in Kashmir, several things need to be done immediately. Firstly, the drug victims should be provided support by their families and society. Secondly, mass education and awareness about the issue should be provided to the people and thirdly, more de-addiction centers should be established.
Lastly, I would say that the law enforcement agencies have an important role to play in this whole situation. They can prevent the supply and transportation of the drugs, provided they work sincerely.
Several issues about drug addiction in Kashmir have been found and highlighted over the years and a lot of attention has been given to the number of drug abusers and to the different types of drugs they use. It is now confirmed that cannabis along with other substances and stimulants are the most commonly used drugs here.
We have various answers to the question of why a particular person engages in drug addiction but we have few answers to the question that how they get access to these drugs?
While working as a ‘mental health therapist’ with an NGO, a few years ago and later as a research scholar, I have analysed the issue thoroughly. Even it has been the subject of my Ph.D. thesis. In my work, I particularly focused on the various means of access that these victims use to get the drugs. I found that most of them are the victims of peer group compliance. While during the interaction with many drug addicts, I realised that most of them started taking drugs because one of his or her friends was using them. Initially, they consumed just for recreational purposes, which later turned into drug addiction. There are also many other reasons for the addiction, I am afraid that the poverty and growing unemployment, and above all the situation caused by the Covid pandemic is going to disproportionately affect the poorest by making them more vulnerable to drug addiction.
A surge in drug addiction cases in Kashmir has become a great challenge to our society. Since my organisation is dealing with drug abuse-related issues and providing counseling to the drug-abuse victims, besides I have been a member of the State Mental Health Board, I can tell you that drug-addiction is one of the most significant and urgent issues facing our society today.
Not only that the lives of these youngsters who have fallen prey to the drugs are at stake, but their families are also crumbling down. I have seen numerous victims struggling with this issue. For instance, I have seen a mother of a teenage girl struggling to help her daughter get rid of the drug addiction. This 16-year-old girl was addicted to the extent that she would take an injection in front of her mother. This family had a strange story. The father of the girl was a drunkard and perhaps a drug paddler too. His partner had made the girl addicted to the drugs. There are many such instances to show how drug abuse ruins not only the individuals but the families too.
I think the government has to play a major role in curbing the drug menace. An important question that needs to be answered is how these drugs are available so easily that such a large number of people are falling prey to them. Why the government is not dealing with the paddlers and sellers with an iron hand?
Public awareness campaigns and seminars are important but it is not all that has to be done to curb the drug menace. The most important thing that the government should do is stop the availability of the drugs in the market.
It is a fact that the government has not done enough to tackle the issue of drug abuse. Even no large scale study has been carried out to know the exact number of the drug abuse victims and gauge the gravity of the situation.