Drug abuse in Valley should alarm us

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A new survey has painted a horrifying picture of the prevailing drug abuse in Kashmir. There are now 70,000 drug users in  Valley, 4000 of whom are females. The survey reveals that 65 to 70 percent of the student community in Kashmir has taken to drugs and shockingly enough it includes 26 percent of female students too. Similarly, more than  70 percent of addicts fall in the age group of 18-35 years. Another study says that a total of two lakh people are on opiates. This is an extraordinary situation which demands an extraordinary response. A figure of two lakh drug addicts should be a cause of alarm for the society and the government, something that has been absent so far. More so, when a decade or so ago, the number of drug addicts in Valley was so low as to be negligible.

However, there are several aspects of the issue that need to be thoroughly investigated before a plan of action is   formulated. According to the latest data, the Government Psychiatry Disease Hospital, Rainawari and Psychiatry Department of Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital have received 69,434 drug patients between April and December 2015. This makes the situation look quite alarming. But is it really the case? For example, there are several studies that  reveal wildly different numbers of drug addicts – between 70,000 to 20,0000 – albeit all point towards the endemic nature of the problem in the state.  Studies by Psychiatry Disease Hospitals, the United Nations International Drug Control Programme and  the noted psychiatrist Dr Mushtaq Margoob have highlighted different aspects of the problem.

Similarly, a study by   Dr Muzaffer Khan, director of the Police Drug De-addiction and Rehabilitation Centre, has made many shocking revelations. School children as young as 14 are on opiates like Cannabis, prescription drugs like Codeine Phosphate syrup, Spasmo-Proxyvon, Benzodiazepine (Valium) and Alprax. Some even get their fix from sniffing commonly available solvents like Fevicol. Khan’s centres in Srinagar, Anantnag and Baramulla have treated more than 11,000 addicts so far. Women addicts, Dr Khan says,  have been increasingly dependent on psychotropic substances, barbazol and sleeping pills.

However, it is not difficult to see what is leading the youth towards the drugs. One major factor is the political conflict of the past 26 years which is taking its toll on the youth. According to unemployment figures, more than six lakh educated youth are without jobs. There is also a huge number of the uneducated and unskilled youth who look forward to a bleak future. The reigning political uncertainty and the humanitarian fallout of the past two and a half decade has only reinforced the sense of hopelessness, leading youth to ease their frustration through drugs. But at the same time conflict can’t be used to rationalize the drug abuse.  As a society we are always inclined to trace these wrongs to the prevailing political uncertainty  and hence absolve ourselves of the responsibility to collectively play a role in redeeming the situation.  While, on the other hand, the government hobbled by a plethora of its own crises commands little credibility in its ability to act. So far, despite the egregious nature of the drug problem, the government has done little to curb it, leave alone launch an awareness campaign among the people.    

Having said that, the dismal state of affairs is no less aided by the easy availability of the prescription drugs in the state. The intermittent confiscation  by the police of the consignments of the drugs like codeine has done precious little  to stem the supply of this or the other drugs. There is thus an  urgent need for the government to act and formulate a comprehensive strategy to address the menace. The civil society and the media  also has a very significant role to play. After losing one generation to gun, we can’t afford to let our new generation be destroyed by the drugs.

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