By Dr. Arun Mitra
Involvement of youth in the use of highly addictive killer drugs in such large numbers as is being reported is a matter of serious concern for social thinkers and concerned citizens, more so for the medical profession. A doctor is duty bound to prevent disease and infirmity. Drugs are a cause of various illnesses. Their use leads to physical disorders and mental health problems and even untimely death. These also become a cause for various types of crimes.
A person is lured into drugs by the peddlers in a very systematic way. They catch hold of young vulnerable persons and study their problems. They convince them that the only way to get out of the problems of life is to get into a different world of happiness free from all such problems. These illusionary feelings draw the vulnerable persons to drugs. The new entrant is first provided drugs free of cost. After sometime when he is unable to live without these he is made to pay the cost. In the event of inability to pay, he is made to find new people and sell these to recover the cost for himself. Thus it becomes a chain reaction with never ending ramifications. Not able to buy or get new entrants, they resort to stealing first from their home and later other places. This leads to tension in the family, even violence in many cases. The whole family is stigmatized. Instead of sympathizing, people start avoiding the victim of the drugs.
Anyone who tries to get out of the menace is first dissuaded by the perpetrators and then threatened. His so-called friends go against him. They clash with him to the extent of committing homicide. The users may die of overdose or underdose. Crimes may be from snatchings to violent clashes and even murders.
Punjab is passing through this ordeal. The number of youth getting involved is not coming down. As per a survey conducted by the Society for Promotion of Youth and Masses (SPYM), in collaboration with National Drugs Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) of AIIMS, there are about 230,000 drug users in Punjab. Out of this 76 per cent are in the age group of 18-35. This means that in the age group 18-35, four out of 100 are addicted to it. Nearly 8 percent use Heroine and 2 percent use injectable drugs. This is a disastrous situation. Such large number of youth is unable to participate in the production process. The whole situation has led to a feeling of fear and insecurity in the society. The issue has gained political dimensions with the society reacting to it sharply.
It is high time medical professionals stood up to meet this challenge. They have the technical knowledge and also empathy as they understand the process the young people are passing through. They do not consider drug abuse as stigma but as a situation forced upon the users. So far, the role of medical professionals has been limited to drug de-addiction centers. Here mainly psychiatrists are involved in the process. But the medical professionals have to play a larger role here. They have to come forward to prevent the disease. This can be done through:
1. Education about the harmful effects of these drugs. This should be done from school level as it is in the teenages that the new entrants are brought in.
2. Coordinating with various social organizations and service clubs to bring out literature on these.
3. Taking up the matter with the administration.
4. Demanding proactive action against major drug peddlers.
5. Demanding any death due to drugs be treated as a murder and to be investigated in that manner.
6. Write in the media about the health hazards of drugs.
7. Guide families how to assess beforehand whether their ward is getting trapped.
8. The organizations like the Indian Medical Association, Indian Doctors for Peace and Development and the academic medical bodies should take it up as an agenda and a challenge.
The problem is very complex and demands multidisciplinary approach. There has to be audit of the drugs seized and such information should be made public. The method of their disposal must be transparent and made public to allay the fear of their being let into recirculation. Appropriate informant protection programme has to be built up from rural to urban areas.
At present the menace is more disturbing in Punjab. Going by the rapid pace at which it has been increasing, other states will not be saved if the situation is not controlled on time.