National

High In Himachal: Drugs And Youth In The Mountains

While marijuana and charas smuggling continues to be a 'high point' in Kullu district, the rising numbers of heroin/Chitta addicts in many parts of Himachal Pradesh have now become a pressing issue.

Representative image for drugs menace
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In his early thirty's, a young drug addict from Solan, Himachal Pradesh pawned his family land, a JCB, and other valuables to meet the everyday expenses of his addiction to synthetic drugs, particularly "Chitta” (heroin). Struggling with withdrawal symptoms and no way to escape, he squanders anything between Rs 5,000 to Rs 45,000 for up to 8 grams of a 'pudia' (packet). 

Later landing at a de-addiction center, he was given medical treatment under the supervision of trained professionals and counselors, but he soon relapsed. He eventually found his way back home and got cured. 

Another college youth, studying in Himachal's Mandi district borrowed and stole money, and even embezzled jewelry to fund his doses of heroin addiction. His helpless parents sought help from the local police to help them send him to rehabilitation lest he dies. 

The high number of drug overdose deaths in Kangra, Solan, Shimla, Una, and Kullu districts has started frightening the parents.    

A De-addiction-cum-Rehabilitation centre inmate admitted to her doctor of having indulged in sex work on occasions to meet the financial costs of her everyday drug requirements ranging between 8 to 19 gm a day.

Until a few years ago, Himachal’s Kullu district had gained notoriety, internationally as a source of the finest 'Malana Cream' -- a product of cannabis grown illegally in the Parvati valley. While marijuana and charas smuggling continues to be a 'high point' in the district, the rising numbers of heroin/Chitta addicts in the state have now become a pressing issue.

Director General of Police Sanjay Kundu said that while the police don’t overlook the state being a key source for fulfilling high marijuana or charas demands in big metropolitan cities, the influx of synthetic drugs in the state in various forms like ‘chitta’, heroin, smack, cocaine, etc. have become a significant threat.

“We are very serious about dealing with narcotic drug trafficking, drug abuse, illicit cultivation of cannabis, and smuggling of contraband. It's a high priority for us. We are working comprehensively and taking a long view for the upcoming years,” he spoke during an anti-drug function, "Wipe Out Drugs", organized at Public Headquarters. He also admitted to the alarming number of youth, both boys and girls, falling victims to drug addiction.

While the administration is already faced with the challenge to deal with the problem of trafficking at a geographically strategic level, especially ‘3 Axis’, Damtal- Nurpur Axis for heroin, Baddi-Solan-Shimla Axis for heroin, and Parvati valley Axis for cannabis, most other drugs are reaching Himachal Pradesh via Punjab from Pakistan and go to the hands of drug peddlers.

The police have seized an equally disconcerting amount of injectables like MDM, LSD, Morphine, and ‘Chitta’ in all forms.

The Mandi Superintendent of police, Shalini Agnihotri added that the state youth have turned into peddlers from being drug addicts. "They travel to Delhi and other places to big dealers come back with small consignments, selling these for profits to addicts and even self-consumption. The cycle continues." Agnihotri adds that a gram of heroin is approximately five doses for a new addict.

These stories could have shocked a peaceful, gentle state, but for Himachal Pradesh, where 60 to 65 per cent of its youth are victims of drug menace, with over 40 per cent of the total inmates lodged across 14 prisons in the state booked in connection with drugs under the NDPS Act, it is a bitter reality.

DGP Kundu explains, “Our capacity of jails is 2400. Due to the rising drug problem, we have 3000 inmates at present. Can you believe 40.8 per cent of the prisoners are involved in drug crimes? Sixty-eight percent of them are under trial and 32 per cent are convicts. Adding that the department has requested the government to increase prison capacity to 5000 due to this situation, he informs that there are over 8000 NDPS cases under trial in various courts, with about 7000 awaiting trials. “We have requested the government to establish Special Courts for NDPS to address this congestion,” he says.

Former Kangra Superintendent of Police, Ramesh Chajjta, during a brain-storming earlier made headlines when he flagged the issue of education centres in major towns or sub-urban centers transitioning into ‘selling points' for drugs.

“Seventy percent of the students of private universities and 80 percent of a technical college in Solan district are under the influence of drugs. In these institutions, students are returning home with drug addiction, not degrees,” he said.

In order to save the youth and get rid of Chitta's addiction, it is necessary to approve the use of addictive drugs, and open a government drug de-addiction center, which should work along the lines of a shelter. The treatment of drug addicts is very much possible with better care and interventions depending upon their condition and the frequency of doses they need.

An integrated drug de-addiction centre in Kullu, run in Collaboration with AIIMS, is a ray of hope for some of the chronic drug addicts who are treated indoors under the supervision of experienced doctors.

“There are 16 indoor male patients and one female. There is round-the-clock care from doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, ward attendants, project coordinators, and security personnel. We treat them at multiple levels, including administering medicines provided by AIIMS New Delhi to deal with withdrawals,” says Dr Satyavat Vaidya, in charge at the centre.

Dr Vaidya says there is always a chance of a patient (addict) getting relapsed after getting cured at the centre. One patient returned thrice and eventually was referred to PGI Chandigarh.

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“Our daily OPD at the hospital in Kullu has also been able to wean away some of the addicts. Yet, the drug addiction trend prevailing in some of the districts is alarming and needs immediate action. We fear women addicts slipping to prostitution to meet expenses for sniffing and injecting drugs” cautions Dr Vaidya.

Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu was quoted saying, "drug menace among youth and illicit drug trafficking has reached an alarming level in the state. We are working on a long-term solution, a lasting one. I have told the DGP Sanjay Kundu and Additional DGP (Crime) Satwant Atwal to launch a strong coordinated offensive against the drug crime, get hold of big fish, smash the dreaded nexus and save innocent youths of mountains."

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