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Kashmir’s battle with drug addiction – A growing menace

By Adfar Shah and Mir Aijaz

Post-turmoil drug addiction in Kashmir is a new threat for the youth in the Valley. Lack of focused post conflict healthcare services and increased proliferation of drugs in turbulent times has only exacerbated the problem of drug addiction in Kashmir which has seeing a drastic rise in the number of people falling prey to this evil over the last few years. As of date over 2.5 lakh youth form a part of addicted or affected population in the Valley.

                                                                                                                           Photo: World News

With very few mental healthcare facilities and de-addiction centres in the Valley, Kashmiris have been left to fend for themselves in case they or their kith and kins get involved in this social and health evil. As many governmental and non-governmental organisations are working for drug de-addiction but no proper measures are being taken to completely eradicate the problem.

“A fresh data of the Srinagar police control room’s (PCR) de-addiction centre paints a grim picture,” states Wasim Nabi in his report in Hindustan Times, Srinagar. “Out of the entire lot, most drug abusers fall in the age group of 18-35 years. While the numbers affected is very high, the patient flow at the de-addiction centre is alarming too. In 2013, 633 cases were registered at the PCR, which has gone up to 1,978. While 81% were male, there were over 19% females suggesting that the number of female drug abusers too is on the rise in an otherwise conservative society. Started in 2008, the PCR’s de-addiction centre has treated 6,693 abusers till date,” he adds.

Prolonged conflict situation for more than two decades and lack of jobs have become the main reason of the increasing trend of drug addiction and hundreds of people, particularly the youth are already trapped in this menace.

In spite of non-governmental organisations such as Action aid India, Kashmir lifeline and Save the Children India doing their bit to eliminate the menace, however, sociologically, a professional participatory approach towards the drug addicts is lacking.

“Multiple factors such as prolonged conflict, high unemployment rate, relationships, peer pressure, family disputes, incapable parenting and death of loved ones and split families/broken homes are the main reasons behind addiction,” says a psychologist from Armed forces who has been instrumental in starting a series of drug de-addiction centres in the Valley.

The PCR’s stress management cell has received more than 567 calls from February 2011 to September 2013 and is still grappling to address the increasing rush of patients. With more than 55 patients in the waiting list this month, PCR’s drug de-addiction centre supported by the Jammu and Kashmir Police as part of police-public relationship is the only functional and known centre to the people instead of many others like RAHAT and SPYM.

A doctor from government hospital said “We don’t have enough space to accommodate all the patients. We treat them during the OPD hours.” Easy availability of drugs is a factor that has been responsible for the alarming rise in addiction.”Drug addiction is getting very common in Kashmir because of its easy availability in the markets,” he says.

                                    Photo: http://deaddictioncentres.in/

“Besides opium, fluid, brown sugar and alcohol addiction is also common among the youth. More than 85% patients recovered through ‘social intervention plan’. “It played a pivotal role in rehabilitation process,” he added.

“Society must come forward and help these drug addicts to recover. Need of the hour is to accept them and help them to come out of this vicious circle so that they can resume their lives and can contribute in the societal affairs” says a Kashmiri Psychologist and CBT expert, Dr. Nuzhat Firdous.

“Several studies carried out on addiction in the Valley reveal a strong correlation between conflict and drug abuse. Moreover, drugs are not being consumed to experience a state of euphoria, but as a coping mechanism to deal with stress”, she adds.

Saima Hamid, a psychologist working with SPYM (The Society for the Promotion of Youth and Masses) stated that “while working with drug addicts I found that a former addict or anyone who has overcome addiction can act as an effective counsellor for drug addicts, because the addiction is almost a group action and if one person is involved the other has high chances of getting involved in the act. Same is the case with de-addiction, if one member withraws there are good chances that whole group may be impacted.”

Apart from the immediate damage to drug abusers, the medium and long term corrosion to the very fabric of the society by the use of prescription drugs and banned narcotics has been well established in many other places in the world.

In a study done at the Government Psychiatric Diseases Hospital (GPDH) in 2002, doctors compared drug trends from 1980-88 and 2002 in patients. The figures not only show a shocking state of affairs, but also indicate how deep-rooted the scourge of addiction is.

An alarming increase of over sixty percent was reported in the use of opioid-based preparations (9.5 per cent to 73.61 per cent), and an over twenty five percent increase in multiple substance-abuse (15.8 per cent to 41.6 per cent), from the 1980s to 2002.It is difficult to break the nexus between the chemists, the peddlers and the police, admits a high-ranking police official.

As per his estimation, Baramulla and South Kashmir are the worst hit in the Valley.

Experts say that in Kashmir the situation is quite different from any other part of the world. Here, addicts avoid alcohol due to religious reasons and also because it is traceable (it has a strong smell); injectables also leave marks, hence they turn to Benzodiazepines, codeine phosphate, sleeping pills, cough syrups, Alprax and opiates, which are easily available and can only be traced during the middle and the severe phases of addiction.

Unless there are immediate measures taken from all quarters of society, and a long term effort is made to re-integrate this population into the mainstream, the youth of Kashmir is likely to pass on this evil to the next generation.

There are only two drug de-addiction centres in the valley; one is being run by J-K police and another by an NGO which makes it impossible for the treatment and counselling of the affected. In a first of its kind initiative, under ‘Sadbhavana’, the Indian Army has taken upon itself to contribute towards this social problem. In the first leg, the Army has opened two drug de-addiction counselling centres – one at Haft Chinar, Srinagar and the other at Baramulla.

While exploring the most socially desired projects that could benefit the people, some civil society members recommended that the forces should initiate measures against the drug menace in the Valley.

The social intervention plan comprised of individual sessions, family sessions, and identification of stressor in the family, antagonist consent, work rehabilitation, relapse prevention education and pre-discharge counselling.

The Kashmir University directorate of lifelong learning is planning to initiate a one-month vocational course for rehabilitating drug addicts.

After undertaking a serious and meaningful research with community and expert participation, the present GoC Chinar Corps (Lt Gen Gurmit Singh) launched this effort on 22 February (2014) through a modest function attended by senior functionaries from civil administration and health departments, particularly those working on the aspects related to the drug abuse prevention.

(Adfar Shah and Mir Aijaz are doctoral Scholars of Sociology at Jamia Millia Islamia and University of Kashmir respectively. Mail at adfer.syed@gmail.com)

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