Srinagar: To add to the deadly pandemic and political conflict that Kashmir is grappling with, is the lethal web of drug abuse that is flourishing in the region, particularly of heroin addiction.
Earlier this month, Doctors Association of Kashmir (DAK) warned people about the alarming rise of drug abuse, and appealed to everyone to join hands to combat this menace before it is too late.
Drastic rise in numbers
Data accessed by Kashmir Reader at the drug de-addiction centre of SMHS Hospital in Srinagar reveals that there has been huge increase in the number of patients received there.
In the year 2016-17, 489 patients visited the centre’s Out Patients Department (OPD) between April 2016 and March 2017.
In the next 12 months, 3,622 patients visited, and 5,113 in the 12 months after that.
Just in three months last year, from April to June 2019, 1,095 patients visited the centre.
Since the August 5 move of the central government to strip the region of its semi-autonomous status, there has been no decrease in the number of patients arriving, despite a long communication and military clampdown.
From July to November 2019, the patients received at the hospital totalled 3,319, confirming that there has been no decline in drug abuse cases despite strict restrictions and surveillance.
“Most of the patients we have been receiving for the last three years are mostly heroin addicts, and there is a drastic increase in their numbers,” said Dr Yasir Rather, a consulting psychiatrist.
“It is alarming. We have been receiving many patients aged less than 16 years,” he added.
‘Not easy to come out of the web’
At the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS), Sartaj, aged 19, is pacing about the hospital corridor just to ease the chilling pain in his body.
It is the fifth time that Sartaj, belonging to the border area of Tangdhar, Uri, has relapsed back to heroin abuse and has been admitted to the hospital.
“I want to leave this abuse but it is not letting me,” Sartaj told Kashmir Reader.
Such patients relapse many times before being admitted for treatment, said Dr Saleem Yousuf, who deals with addiction cases at IMHANS.
Dr Yousuf said that drugs like heroin and cocaine cause permanent change in an individual. “It is not easy to come out of this web,” he said.
Another patient, Yaqoob Ahmad of Handwara district, is also not able to shun heroin.
“I want to leave it (heroin abuse) but I again start doing it because I feel the ‘urgency’,” Yaqoob said.
Yaqoob, a driver by profession, got addicted to heroin in early 2016 when one of his friends introduced him to it.
“I used to smoke but I had never touched drugs. It was 12 January 2016 when my friend asked me to try out a white powder. Without knowing anything about it, I tried it and he also did so,” Yaqoob narrated.
“When I did this drug, I felt that I had acquired the strength of four lions. I felt I could conquer any damn thing. But when its influence was over, my whole body started aching. My head felt heavy and throbbed with such pain that I felt I will be dead soon if I don’t get more heroin,” Yaqoob said.
He asked his friend to give him more heroin. “I quarrelled with him and then he took me to a drug peddler’s house,” Yaqoob told Kashmir Reader.
“We travelled about 8 km from Handwara town to reach the peddler’s house. It was a small room and there were already two boys, aged between 14 and 16, injecting drugs. One of them was injecting again and again. My friend asked him for a small packet and gave him 6,000 rupees. We took the drugs and left,” Yaqoob narrated.
“There was no return from there. I got into this abuse badly,” he said.
Arrests made but laws not stringent
As per police records, about 200 persons associated with drug peddling in Kashmir were arrested last year under Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS). But most of these people were easily bailed out.
At the district court in Srinagar, 55 bail applications of drug peddlers charged under NDPS Act were accepted last year.
Public prosecutor Bilquees Zargar told Kashmir Reader that under the NDPS Act, if a peddler is arrested with a small quantity of the drug, the offence is bailable.
“What will the court do? The need is to make the laws more stringent, so that they act as deterrent to others,” Zargar said.
Covid-19 and drug abuse
The novel coronavirus has infected more than 13 thousand people in J&K and killed nearly 300, but the drug trade is still flourishing.
Social activists believe that a ‘big narcotic nexus’ is being run and huge money being made out of it, quietly, with the subject brushed under the carpet. The aim, they say, is to keep Kashmiri youth and children under the influence of substance abuse ‘intentionally’.
A study conducted in December last year by IMHAN) on “Pattern and Prevalence of Substance Use and Dependence in Kashmir”, found that use of opioids, particularly heroin, has drastically increased over time in J&K.
The study was conducted by Dr Yasir Rather and Dr Fazl-e-Roub in the districts of Srinagar and Anantnag. It documented 16,389 persons as having fallen in the trap of substance abuse in these two districts.
It was also found that per person, the money spend on drugs was nearly Rs 60,000 per month. For 16,389 persons, it amounted to 1,010,340,000.
“The situation is terrible not only in terms of more people taking to drugs but also the economic damage of it,” said Dr Yasir Rather while talking to Kashmir Reader.
What can be done?
Doctors and social activists say that the drug policy drafted last year by the government should be implemented in letter and spirit.
According to the policy, addicts should be treated as patients rather than criminals, and stigmatisation must stop immediately in order to pull back people from the brink.
Awareness among parents and the general public should be created about substance abuse and ways to fight it. Children at schools and youth in colleges should be taught about its horrific consequences.