OPINION: Drug Addiction – Catching on like Wildfire in Kashmir

Drug Addiction – Catching on like Wildfire in Kashmir

“…each passing day, I wanted something stronger, and within six months, I was directly injecting heroin into my blood through needles,” says a 26 yr old drug addict currently under rehabilitation.

By Farhat Wani
Reported by Team RK
18 July 2020

Drug addiction has become a monstrous problem around the world. It has been adopted as a lifestyle in both rich and poor countries. The use of drugs and alcohol not only bring negative impact on moral values but it also damage nation economy as well. Drugs that come up with short periods of feelings of well being and pleasure but after that it always drag to permanent psychological and personal abnormalities.

““Around three to four years ago, I started sniffing heroin, also called ‘chasing’. During that time, I also took brown sugar and cannabis. But each passing day, I wanted something stronger, and within six months, I was directly injecting heroin into my blood through needles,” says a 26 yr old man as he is  taking a walk in the lobby of the drug de-addiction centre at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital.

The man, who does not wish to be identified beyond stating his profession as a cab driver, admits that he ended up spending Rs 1.8 lakh on his addictions, while a friend of his sold his car to buy drugs.

“It was only after my friend died, probably from a drug overdose, that I decided to seek help. I told my parents and they were heartbroken. But I have been clean for five days now,” he says.

The cab driver and his friend are hardly isolated cases; thousands of Kashmiri youth are in the grip of drug addiction. The SMHS de-addiction centre, the main such facility in the Kashmir Valley, has registered a 945 per cent rise in patients since 2016-17.

Dr Saleem Yousuf sees 50-60 patients every day, a majority of whom are aged between 10 and 30. He estimates that 80-90 per cent of them are heroin addicts.

“Recently we had a 45-year-old woman who was consuming heroin. The reason she cited was killings of her family members in the conflict — that is one of the stress factors that we have seen among drug abuse patients,” he says. “Domestic issues and unemployment also lead to drug abuse, as does curiosity and the desire to entertain themselves.”

A 17-year-old boy from south Kashmir is a case in point for curiosity. His father says there were no serious issues in his son’s life that could have prompted him to take drugs. The boy says his friends got him to take heroin as they knew many peddlers who operate in the area, but he only took it three times before his father found out and immediately brought him to SMHS.“I didn’t pay anything for the drug, nor did any of my friends. Later, we heard that is how the peddlers operate — the first few packets are free, so that we get hooked on the drug. After that, you have to pay Rs 1,000 for one gram,” the boy says.

Another patient, whose main suppliers were a male and a female peddler operating out of Batwara area in Srinagar, offers an insight into how the drug menace spread in Srinagar.

“Initially we used to get drugs from Sangam area, which is around 35 km from my home. Now, it is easily available in Pampore and other areas close to Srinagar. I have seen how the drug network spread,” he says.

A peddler can sell 25 packets a day, earning upwards of Rs 25,000, he says. “In villages, the rate is Rs 1,000; in Srinagar it is 1,800-2,000, and outside Kashmir, it sells for Rs 4,500. It is an industry and everyone is profiting from it,” says the patient.

The increase in drug consumption might be a direct result of increased pilferage on Kashmiri drug routes, according to a government official.

“It is our understanding that suddenly pilferage along the route increased, which resulted in formation of these drug conduits. Most of the drugs come from Tangdhar region and pass through parts of north, central and south Kashmir. Most drug consumption was noticed along the route, with Sopore, Srinagar and Anantnag most affected. This is a crisis situation,” the official says.

The use of intoxicating substances was started very long time ago when used various parts of plants in order to cure ailments and then it was founded that using of specific part of specific plant brings tranquility and sense of euphoria. Human being found the recipe of brewing alcohol accidently, after that alcohol and other intoxicating substances became part of social and religious gathering.  With the passage of time, new methodology of extracting and purification brought new, modified, potent and lethal intoxicating substances to societies. People did use it, abuse it, became addicted and enmeshed badly.

In Kashmir, drug addiction has become worse; the number of drug users has increased exponentially in the last few decades. The question is why people start doing drugs? There are different factors which are responsible for drawing youngsters to the drugs and later to drug addiction which includes: family disputes, loneliness, unemployment, failure in love, business, education, bad company, despondency, escape from real life, particularly the impact of media on children, as children tend to copy their role model, if children watch their role model having drugs in movies.

 People starts from smoking tobacco and ruin their life by jumping on hard drugs. Children who grow up in family where smoking is common than there is high chances that children will start smoking tobacco very early, will try hard drugs and will involve in wrong practices. There are also some other factors including; feeling of alienation, life trauma, lacking of family support and relations problems Biologically, drugs effect on neurotransmitter and release some chemicals that give pleasure and sense of well being for short period of time. After repeatedly usage, time period of feeling pleasure become gradually decrease and diminish. The brain and body become dependent on drug. When drug addict use drug, they don’t use it for pleasure, they use it to feel normal. Consequences always been very painful and difficult to get away including withdrawal symptoms, paranoid and psychotic thoughts, stress, anxiety, depression, restlessness, psychological problems and cardiovascular diseases.
This problem can be solved by educating everyone, everyone should know about the consequences of it. Teachers should educate students how to avoid it and how to manage stress. Government should take action against drug dealers and strict punishment should be executed.

A senior police officer says heroin has to be stopped at its source to make such measures more effective. The officer alleges that the heroin coming into Kashmir is from Pakistan and Afghanistan, and until three years ago, was being transported to Punjab and other northern states.

“There are no labs to manufacture heroin here. All of it comes from foreign countries, and that is where Kashmiri drug transporters gain significance. They have a network spread from the LoC to the Valley, and it is spreading across India too,” the officer says.

The police too have their own de-addiction centre, and senior officials say several others will be built, not only in Srinagar but across the Valley. But another question raised often is if the police and the doctors in the Valley are adequately equipped to handle this “epidemic”.

Dr Yousuf says medical professionals are trying everything at their disposal to treat addicted individuals.

“The first few days after a patient checks himself/herself in are crucial. They begin to show withdrawal symptoms, which include excruciating pain and diarrhoea within 12 hours. We give them the best medicines, and have also introduced group therapy sessions. We also let families stay here for emotional support,” he says.

“Patients are also given Naltrexone, which produces withdrawals symptoms not on quitting drugs but upon taking them again. This acts as a deterrent, and also brings them back here for treatment. But I can tell you, it is a struggle. Much more needs to be done,” Dr Yousuf adds.

Dr Yasir Hassan Rather, who heads the SMHS drug de-addiction centre, says: “It is an unprecedented situation and needs unprecedented measures to counter it. A lot of drug overdose deaths are unreported and scores of youth are dying due to heavy intravenous heroin use.

“To make matters worse, victims of drug abuse are socially boycotted. We need to understand that all of us are stakeholders in this, and we need to remove this stigma and shame attached to drug abuse and instead work towards saving our future, or all will be lost.”

Masoodi, the Anantnag MP, says one way to tackle the drug menace is to involve traditional institutions.

“We need to go back to our traditional institutions and seek their support — the mosques, madrassas and families all have to come together. This problem is invisible, let us shed light on it and tackle it effectively,” he said.

Suhail Bukhari, media adviser to former J&K CM and Peoples Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti, agreed with the National Conference leader.

“This menace is eating us, and more importantly, the youth of our state. We can’t conclusively point out exact reasons behind the problem, nor should we blame anyone in particular, but what we need is a unified front. Religious and educational institutions should reach out to the youth. Everyone must play their part,” Bukhari said.

Everyone should come forward to minimize the affect of drug addiction and drug addict persons must be treated with empathy, sympathy and counseling is required to treat such patients.

Written by Farhat Wani, A Srinagar based Social Activist.