DRUG abuse, as experts predict, is supposed to attain as serious and challenging dimensions as the threat posed by arms, terrorism and nuclear weapons. Drugs that are the main cause of addiction are heroin, opium, morphine, inhalants, brown sugar, cocaine, diazepam, marijuana (ganja), hashish oil, etc. After petroleum and arms, the drug trade is the third-largest business in the world. It is estimated in a report of the United Nations (2017) that about 25.5 million people in the world are suffering from drug use disorders. Generations have already been sacrificed on this altar and future generations stand on the verge of ever-increasing vulnerability.
While the problem has established global dimensions, the problem becomes more pronounced and nuanced in a fragile zone like Kashmir, which is already beset with a host of socio-economic and political issues. For the past thirty odd years, the uncertainty prevalent in the valley has not only multiplied the number of people ailing with mental issues, it has worsened the issue of drug addiction and substance abuse. Researchers have pointed to numerous causes like easy availability, peer pressure, the pursuit of mental peace, or simply seeking an experience of thrill.
“The circumstances from last three decades have contributed to various kinds of social and political issues including drug addiction in the valley,” notes Sajad Ahmad Bhat in Drug Addiction in Kashmir: Issues and Challenges. “The lot number of youth has turned to drugs who have directly or indirectly affected by the turmoil in the state. But this is not the only reason behind this epidemic. Unemployment, relationship problems are naming a few.”
While all these have played a catalytic role in pushing youth into the abyss of drug addiction, studies carried over the past few decades have revealed not only an abrupt increase in the number of people indulged in menace but it's also revealed the growing involvement of girls, teenagers and school-going children. A United Nation Drug Control Program (UNDCP) report in 2020 revealed that around 70,000 people, including 4000 women, in Kashmir were addicted to drugs.
While drugs like Alprazolam, Spasmoproxivan, weeds were used by addicts in the past, the recent trend has seen growing consumption of heroin, cocaine, morphine, inhalants, injectables and such high-end drugs, revealed Dr. Muzaffar, Director, Drug De-Addiction Centre. According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE) in February 2019, 600,000 people, i.e. 4.6 percent of the total population of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir use opioid drugs, 80 percent of the drug addicts in Kashmir use heroin and morphine. From 15% heroin abuse recorded in 2016, it has now gone up to 90%, said doctors at a government de-addiction centre in Srinagar, the main city in the region. On the age range of people seen recently falling into the trap of drug abuse, a newspaper quotes Dr. Muzaffar saying that "the trend of drug abuse is on the rise among school children as we have registered many such cases, where students of Class IX to XII are involved".
Since 2019, Drug De-addiction Centre of Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (IMHANS) in Srinagar has cloaked over 1,500 per cent increase in patient load seeking treatment for substance abuse. The footfall grew from 489 in 2016, to 7,420 in 2019. In 2020, the number dropped to 3,536 apparently due to Covid-19 lockdown.
From 139 patients between 2012 and 2015, around 309 patients were registered for the Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) at the IMHANS in 2016-2019. While around 495 patients sought OST treatment in 2020, more than 500 patients had already registered for it by May 2021.While 47 per cent of these addicts come from urban pockets and 53 per cent from rural background, the statistics further reveal that around 73.8 per cent of these patients were unmarried—35 per cent up to the age of 25 years—while over 53 per cent were in the age group of 26-35 years.
"The local administration had promised to crackdown on drug mafia post the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019, but the reality gives contrasting signals," says Ayjaz Wani, a Research Fellow at ORF Mumbai. "In fact, the draconian communications lockdown enforced by the state that saw the blocking of the internet, shutting off of mobile networks, and indefinite closure of educational institutions drove more youth to such behaviour. The months of boredom, psychological stress, lack of recreational activities in the months following the abrogation of Article 370 created an environment for drug addiction to proliferate even among the educated youth in well-off families."
The eruption of the pandemic has sparked some unforeseen and vicious trends in the phenomenon of drug menace. The long term absence of students from schools and colleges has only deteriorated the problem and the first-hand testimony by Dr. Muzaffar reveals that the number of drug abusers has multiplied thrice during the lockdown. The ease of availability has also increased and cumulatively these factors have quantitatively and qualitatively aggravated the pre-existing chronic issue of drug abuse. In absence of regular classes, physical activity and a pressing sense of boredom have only made the youth vulnerable to the menace of drug addiction. These minor indoor incidents have translated into colossal scale outcomes like youth losing the meaning of their lives, an overreaching alienation and large scale despair - all of them feeding the furnace of drug addiction.
"It can or cannot be coincidence that the drug abuse has assumed menacing proportions during a combination of political and medical lockdown," a doctor at the Police Control Room in Srinagar said. "Since March 2020, the Covid pandemic has kept everybody indoors. There have been familial implosions. Marriages have broken and students have forgotten about their school cultures. Smuggling and circulation of psychotropic substances has multiplied during the same period."
As per the study titled “Pattern and prevalence of substance use and dependence in Kashmir: Special focus on Opioids”, heroin is the most widely used opioid in two Kashmir districts, Srinagar and Anantnag. Since opioids are one of the costliest drugs, the study has estimated that the expenditure on consumption of opioids in two districts of Srinagar and Anantnag is Rs 3,74,90,329. Further, as per the J&K police data, 36.08 kilograms of pure heroin and 49.7 kilograms of brown sugar were recovered from different parts of Kashmir in 2020. In the first five months of this year, over 25 kgs of heroin have been recovered by the police and security forces, mostly along the Line of Control. Notably, North Kashmir districts of Kupwara and Baramulla, which share a LoC with Pakistan, accounted for 21.15 kgs and 7.60 kgs of heroin respectively recovered in 2020. One gram of heroin reportedly costs around Rs 3,000-4,000 and as per police records, around 1132 drug-related cases were registered in 2020 itself.
“Before 2015 there were hardly any heroin abusers in Kashmir. Cannabis, shoe polish, and correction fluids were used as drugs. Most of the addicts then had a dark past, were affected by the violence and belonged to a particular socio-economic background,” Dr. Arshid Hussain, Kashmir’s noted mental health specialist, said. “But now, the situation has changed entirely. People are taking deadly drugs like heroin and there are educated ones as well which include government officials, students and those from well-off families.”
In the backdrop of the rising cases of drug addiction in the valley, IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar lately said that police have made blueprint and will go after drugs menace with heavy hand. But experts are already raising alarm bells by warning that data available on drug abuse in Kashmir is ‘tip of very large iceberg'. They bat for a cumulative and sustained effort by teachers, parents, mental health providers and authorities as the only way out of this rabbit hole. "The conflict has also given a death blow to the formal social control system enforced by the modern state apparatus. Torn by conflict since 1989, the modern state apparatus, overburdened with anti-militancy operations and other security and administrative duties, has failed to take charge of the deviant behaviour of individuals. The complete breakdown of informal traditional methods of social control, which were based on belief systems and were implemented by village elders and revered community members has, on the other hand, given a free-run to radical forces," Wani quoted above added.
Many say the prerogative of the government and the state is to plug all those voids through which these drugs permeate into the valley. This calls for not only heightened surveillance on highways, but increased and concentrated effort by authorities at the grass root level.
Parents, as experts have been telling again and again, share a major role in curbing the menace. They must keenly observe any changes in the behavioural pattern of their children and immediately respond to the same, lest it turns to be the case of drug abuse/addiction. It may be challenging to know if someone has a drug addiction but knowing warning signs can help.Common physical signs include lethargy, bloodshot eyes, runny nose, irregular sleep and weight changes.Behavioral signs include shifts in social circles, poor work/school performance, secretive behaviour and neglecting responsibilities.
Psychological signs include paranoid thoughts, negative self-image, lack of motivation and feelings of apathy. Teachers must instil in students the spirit of healthy and positive life and simultaneously sensitise and awaken them to the subtle phenomenon of drug addiction.
Lastly, our healthcare workers and mental health providers have a special role to play. Their sympathetic and professional interventions can help not only in mitigating the pandemic of drug addiction, but can more importantly help those who are already trapped in this vicious circle and are unable to break the chain. Though surveys reveal that drugs have penetrated our society on a catastrophic scale, there is still a silver lining that we may be able to avert the mass scale destruction by virtue of early identification, intervention and education. This is our last hope and hope sustains life.
- The author is a freelancer, R&D Engineer and comparative studies scholar
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