Dhabas at Sangam said to be the hub; every 9 out of 10 substance abusers addicted to heroin, say doctors
Anantnag: While police and the civil administration have been carrying out frequent drives to destroy cannabis and poppy cultivation in Kashmir, the real menace is growing unchecked – that of heroin consumption. The drug is causing all the havoc right now with nearly 9 out of 10 substance addicts in Kashmir turning out to be dependent on heroin.
Drug addiction is not a new thing in Kashmir, given the years of conflict and the psychological toll it has taken. Different agencies have been putting forth varying number of drug addicts in Kashmir, the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) putting the figure at 70,000 in 2014.
In February 2019, the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) submitted a report called “Magnitude of Substance Use in India”, in which it stated that around 6 lakh people in Jammu and Kashmir were abusing drugs, about 4.9 percent of the population.
Experts in Kashmir, however, maintained that the number was underestimated. “There were some serious flaws in the study. To cite one, the researchers went to villages and asked people whether they consumed alcohol or any other drugs. Do you think people in Kashmir will come out on that in the open?” Dr Muzaffar Ahmad Khan, a clinical psychologist, told Kashmir Reader.
Khan heads the Drug De-Addiction centre at Police Control Room (PCR) Srinagar. He believes the number of addicts is way higher than mentioned in the study.
Earlier, the substance of abuse used to be cannabis, poppy, shoe polish, correction fluids, poppy husk (called Fukki in local parlance) and some others. Since 2016, however, heroin started making way into Kashmir valley and in these four years has completely upstaged the other substances.
“Earlier, if we received 10 addicts at our centre, only one or two used to be on heroin. But over the last couple of years or so, it has been the other way round. Now, if we receive 10 people, almost 9 are on heroin,” Khan told Kashmir Reader.
The age group of these addicts is 10 to 30 years, as per sources in Srinagar’s SMHS hospital, where the footfall of such patients has been on an alarming increase.
“We received about 450 patients between April 2016 and March 2017 in our Out Patient Department. The rise of patient numbers has been explosive, with about 3,500 in the next year and over 5,000 in the next,” a source at SMHS told Kashmir Reader.
Heroin has given the addiction problem a grave turn on two counts. One, it is causing serious health issues and even killing addicts with overdoses. Two, it is way costlier than other drugs, draining the finances quickly and often forcing addicts into crimes to pay for the drug.
Clinical psychologist and head of the police’s De-Addiction centre in Anantnag, Mudassir Aziz, told Kashmir Reader that she has seen at least ten deaths related to heroin overdose in the last couple of years.
“They were in touch with our centre but, unfortunately, overdosed on heroin and died,” Aziz said, adding that at least three others committed suicide during this period. “Which shows how mental health is severely hampered by this drug,” Azis said.
This, though, is only a glimpse of the whole picture, which is way scarier. Dr Yasir Hassan Rather, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at IMHANS, says that the number of people coming to hospital OPDs is just the tip of the iceberg.
“I think it is only 10 percent of the total drug addicts who make it to the OPDs,” Rather told Kashmir Reader.
Rather has recently conducted a study, along with some fellow doctors, which found that 90 percent of substance abusers were heroin users. Rather said that 50 percent of these inject the drug, exposing them to the risk of Hepatitis-C and even HIV.
“Many were found to be reusing or sharing the syringes used to inject the drug,” Rather said, informing that 71 percent of heroin users were found to be sharing needles and 69 percent reusing needles.
Rather believes that Kashmir is sitting on a ticking bomb of heroin addiction, and the infections associated with it.
“37.7 percent of the drug addicts we met for the study had experienced drug overdose more than once, which means they have had a near-death experience,” Rather said.
Apart from the health issues, the financial cost is also too much, said a senior police official in south Kashmir. “A gram of heroin is sold at between 2500 rupees and 3000 rupees. Most of these people snort or inject no less than two grams daily. Even the best of us, economically, cannot afford such money,” the official said, adding that people inevitably take to petty crimes like theft and become drug peddlers as well.
Kashmir Reader talked to two such addicts, who said that in their two years of heroin addiction they had spent lakhs, even crores, to procure the drug.
“Every single penny of my savings and the money I earn, I spend it on heroin. I have spent around Rs 1.5 crore in the last one and a half years,” an engineer-turned-contractor from Anantnag district said.
He said he was in rehab for a while before he relapsed and continued with the drug abuse.
Another from Baramulla, a fruit trader, told Kashmir Reader that he had spent around 70 lakh rupees in a year, “30,000 rupees in a single day.”
To emphasise the enormity of the economic burden, Rather said that drug addicts in Srinagar and Anantnag – the only two districts they had chosen for their study – had together spent about 3.5 crore rupees per day on the substances.
“And I have already said that 90 percent of the substance is heroin,” Rather said.
The police official said that a network of addicts who have become peddlers is keeping the drug trade afloat and thriving, particularly in south Kashmir.
“Besides, the region has been traditionally a cannabis and poppy hub. The same network of peddlers is circulating heroin now,” the police official said. “Apart from that, the dhabas along the highway strengthen the network of this illegal trade, particularly in the Sangam area,” he added.
In Sangam, citizens have often complained about the apathy of the enforcing agencies in curbing this menace. “Everyone here knows what these dhabas are for. Every soul from Anantnag to Srinagar knows how people from across the valley come to Sangam and adjoining areas to get their doses of the drug. Why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?” concerned citizens told Kashmir Reader.
This easy availability, according to Rather, is the biggest factor in luring youth towards the menace and the relapsing of people who go through rehabilitation to get rid of the habit.
“Heroin in Kashmir is as easily available as cigarettes,” Rather said. “That is why more and more youth are falling prey to the menace and relapse is so damn prevalent.”
While all this is happening, the question is why the administration and the police are wasting their time and energy curbing drugs which are becoming passé with every passing day.
Governor Satyapal Malik’s administration last year, amid much pomp and show, unveiled a drug policy and earlier this year a “Narcotics Squad” of the police was designated to curb drug menace in Kashmir valley.
“On the ground, however, there has been no concrete action against heroin addiction, which continues right under the nose of the administration,” the police official told Kashmir Reader, adding that south Kashmir was turning into a hub of such abuse.
Kashmir Reader asked Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) South Kashmir range, Atul Goel, about such easy availability of heroin. He said, “You are saying that it is available in abundance, I don’t know. But we have been taking measures. Almost every day peddlers are booked and substances are confiscated.”
The question remains whether filing cases against peddlers and/or confiscating small amounts of the drug are going to suffice, while the market is overflowing with heroin.