By Partha Prawal
With an aim to strengthen global action and cooperation to achieve the aim of making the world free of drug abuse, June 26 has been observed as International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking since 1987 with a different theme every year.
This year’s theme is ‘Health for Justice. Justice for Health and it emphasises on the fact that justice and health are the sides of the same coin when it comes to addressing the problems associated with drugs.
At a time when steps are being taken worldwide to tackle the menace of drug abuse, a recent survey shows that all is not well when it comes to Assam and the Northeast.
In a report titled Magnitude of Substance Use in India that was sponsored by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, submitted by the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi in February earlier this year it was found that at the national level, about 14.6 percent of the people (approximately 16 crore people) between the ages of 10 and 75 are current users of alcohol.
The report also unearthed that about 2.8 percent of Indians (3.1 crore people) have reported using any cannabis product within the past 12 months.
And at the time of the survey, it was found that around 2.06 percent of the people reported using opioids and about 0.55 percent of Indians are estimated to need help for their opioid use problems.
The report further stated that around 8.5 lakh people in India are estimated to inject drugs.
The report made a shocking revelation that half of the total drug abusers come from the states of Assam, Delhi, Haryana, Manipur, Mizoram, Punjab, Sikkim and Uttar Pradesh.
Moreover, the rise in the rates of drug users in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura was also witnessed.
“With close proximity to Nepal, cannabis, heroin and brown sugar are available in large number in Sikkim. Here, most of the drug users start taking drugs at an early age. I was around 15-year-old when I first took cannabis,” informed a Sikkim drug survivor under the condition of anonymity.
In Assam and other states of the northeast, it is alcohol, cannabis, brown sugar, cocaine, yaba pills and phensedyl that are mostly used by drug users.
Most of the drugs in northeast sans Sikkim come from Bangladesh and Myanmar.
In fact, northeast and Bangladesh share a long border of 1,880 kilometres with each other and most areas pass through hills, plains, and rivers. This makes police patrolling on either side of the border challenging, which makes drug trafficking easier.
In an article on drug trafficking in the northeast, senior journalist Rajeev Bhattacharyya informed that drug consignments seized in the last three years revealed that two routes are prominently active in the Northeast that transport drugs from Myanmar to Bangladesh.
“More prolific is the route through Mizoram originating at Champhai, which leads to different locations on the India-Bangladesh border. Champhai is very well connected to cities in Myanmar that include Tiddim and Mandalay. The possibility of these drugs landing in Bangladesh cannot be ruled out,” Bhattacharyya further wrote in the article titled India’s Northeast Emerges as a Drug-Trafficking Corridor Between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
He further wrote that in 2018, over 200 drug dealers have been killed in encounters with the authorities, about 25,000 apprehended, and over a hundred “Yaba Godfathers” have been forced to surrender in Bangladesh.
The police and the narcotics department in the northeast are on a war footing and over the last couple of years have seized and destroyed contraband items worth of several crores.
In fact, earlier this month a number of drug peddlers were arrested and several drug rackets busted in places like Golaghat, Jorhat, Sivsagar, Tezpur, and Guwahati.
Drugs were also seized and destroyed in other states of the region as well.
In Mizoram alone in 2018, yaba pills worth of $160 million was seized.
The governments in the region are doing their bits in order to curb the menace of drug abuse in their respective states.
It may be mentioned here that the Assam Police earlier this month, in a bid to draw attention of the local people against drug abuse, tweeted a humorous tweet which read as- “Anyone lost a huge (590 kgs) amount of Cannabis/Ganja and a truck in and around Chagolia Checkpoint last night? Don’t panic, we found it.”
The tweet garnered a lot of attention and indeed helped in creating awareness against drugs.
Even though the drug abuse in Assam and northeast have shown a steep spike in the recent years, however, it was also observed that youths in large numbers are trying to come out of the clutches of drugs.
De-addiction centres in the region have increased and the number of patients admitted there is also increasing.
“Increase in the numbers of patients in the de-addiction centres is both disheartening and welcoming. It is always disheartening to see so many youths being entangled in the chain of drug abuse. It is welcoming as well since they are once again putting efforts to return to normalcy. We are hopeful of the best,” informed drug crusader Dr PK Das.
“However, the rate at which the numbers of drug abusers are increasing is disturbing. We still have a long way to go in our fight against drug abuse. A lot needs to be done,” Dr Das was quick to add.