Tuesday 22nd Jan 2019
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Beware of Silent Killer A North-East Perspective

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What image we can draw of a society where a 10-year old child has started injecting drugs. This line is more than enough to substantiate the adage that children are like wet cement and whatever falls on them casts an impression.  The problem in the North East appears to be deep-rooted and the damage that has been done over the years appears irreparable. It is certainly high time that people came out in the open to say “Enough is Enough”.

Use of Alcohol and drug abuse is increasing by the day as more youths are getting attracted towards it. Its intake dehumanises individuals and erodes the very foundation of social values and societal norms. Alcohol and drug abuse is prevalent across India in one form or the other but in the North East the situation is more or less pathetic and requires immediate attention. As per sample survey available, every third person in the North East region has been a drug addict at any point of time in his life. The most affected states are Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya and some areas of Assam.

In Mizoram alone, according to an estimate available with the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the number of child addicts could lie in between 10,000 to 30,000. Another very peculiar form of drug abuse in the form of intake of cough syrup by youth and adults is on increase. Common brands like Phensedyl and Corex are used as a substitute for Alcohol because they are cheap and easily available and the risk factors in their use are at bare minimum. Its widespread use can be gauged from the fact that many brands of cough syrup are also available at beetle shops, PCOs, parlours and stationary shops. Apart from substances like cough syrup, chemicals like Dendrite and Erase X are also widely used as a substitute for Alcohol.

Arup Das associated with rehabilitation centre called Kripa Foundation once said that children in 10 to 20 years age group were regular visitors with the complain of health problems like insomnia, memory loss and skin disease after becoming addicts of these cough syrups.

Two states like Manipur and Nagaland bordering Burma are mostly affected and have the highest number of injecting drug users in India and it is multiplying every day. In 1990 Manipur had become the AIDS capital of India. Nagaland too has reported high incidence of HIV among injecting drug users. Over the years the North East region has witnessed a dramatic change in its drug use pattern from smoking opium and heroin to injecting heroin and pharmaceuticals drugs. The North East region which has states like Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura have over the years become the hub of  alcohol and drug abuse.  Mr. Kifaitullah, Zonal Amir of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind in Assam, while talking to Radiance, said addiction has increased manifold and more or less has reached every household. Even some higher class Muslims under the influence of western culture are becoming drug addicts and efforts are on with the help of JIH and SIO to encourage and motivate these Muslim youths to live life according to Deen and Sunnah.

The situation particularly in Manipur and Nagaland is alarming because of strong links between drug addiction and HIV transmission. Apart from unsafe sex the other major cause of HIV is because of intravenous drug use. These addicts use the same contaminated needles a number of times and also share with one another or even with other groups. According to an estimate put forward by the Department of AIDS control, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the HIV and AIDS rates in Manipur are 1.57 per cent and in Nagaland 1.2 per cent as compared to national average of 0.34  per cent. Mr. Abdul Haleem, Organiser JIH in Manipur, while talking to Radiance, said that because of drug addicts incidents of theft and petty crimes have increased. Pharmaceutical drugs are illegally bought and sold. Drugs are illegally brought from countries like Burma, Thailand and even from some cities in India. Efforts are on to reform the society so that youth can be protected from such practice.

The North East region is known as a place with rampant use of drugs, high number of HIV and AIDS, regular ethnic conflict, poverty and unemployment. Politically and socially, it has been a neglected region because in the Government at the Centre pay attention to States on the basis of their respective numerical strength in the Lok Sabha. Notably, this region has a high unemployment rate of 59.3 per cent as compared to 19.7 national average. The reason for the highest number of drug addicts and those affected by it is because of easy access and availability of illegal drugs and close proximity with places like Laos, Mayanmar, Thailand and Burma. Heroin and Spasmo, a painkiller drug, are commonly used by the addicts of this region. Strict laws against heroin trafficking in Manipur in 2000 and in Mizoram in 1990 resulted in shift to another form like vein puncturing habit of injecting pharmaceutical products like dextropropoxyphene which is a pain reliever and was widely used. Cannabis (ganja) is widely used in places like Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura.

According to a UN report, the behavioural change in the use of drugs has changed dramatically in the North East in the past 30 years. In the year 1970 a new pattern emerged where youth started smoking heroin and in 1980s took the form of injecting drugs. Last few years have witnessed the use of stimulants like amphetamines. Notably 90 per cent of drug users are using injections in Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram.

Subir Bhaumik in his article “Guns, Drugs and Rebels” has expressed the pattern of drug use and its availability and the threats by writing that seizure of heroin amphetamines have risen in most North East Indian states and it is only the tip of the iceberg. To him the threat posed by increased drug trafficking to India is manifold. Trafficking through the North East has led to a rise in the local consumption. The region’s drug addict population is currently estimated at around 1,20,000 by the Indian Council of Medical Research. Many addicts use intravenous injection to push drugs and become HIV positive. The number of HIV positive case in the North East region has risen to around 20,000 in the last two decades. Over the years several military and paramilitary officials have been arrested for smuggling heroin or lesser drugs in North East India. The drug cartel has sucked in several politicians, bureaucrats and even security force officials to carry on their illicit trade.

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