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India needs to be serious about its war on drugs

NewsIndia needs to be serious about its war on drugs

‘The menace of drug addiction has spread fast among the youth of India as supply drives the demand’.


The arrest of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has once again thrown the spotlight on the drug menace in India.

Late September 2021, 3,000 kilograms of heroin were caught at the Mundra Port in Gujarat. Reportedly, the large quantity of drug shipment came from Afghanistan. The menace of drugs in India came into the limelight last year in 2020 during the investigations behind the death of Sushant Singh Rajput. Let me be brutally honest, the menace of drug addiction has spread fast among the youth of India. This is because supply drives the demand. India is wedged between the world’s two largest areas of illicit opium production, the Golden Crescent and the Golden Triangle.

Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos form the regions of The Golden Triangle Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran form the regions of The Golden Crescent. This proximity has traditionally been viewed as a source of vulnerability, since it has made India both a destination and a transit route for opiates produced in these regions.

This fact continues to be important in defining drug trafficking trends in the subcontinent. However, the extent to which heroin seized in the country can be sourced to the diversion of licit opium grown in the country is a matter which continues to be debated. According to the World Drug Report 2021, prescription drugs, their ingredients or ‘precursors’ are being increasingly diverted for recreational use in India–the largest manufacturer of generic drugs in the world.

As one of the biggest manufacturers of potassium permanganate, a precursor chemical, there is a growing suspicion that the processing of cocaine may be shifted by drug cartel from South America to India.

India is shockingly also linked to shipment of drugs sold on the 19 major darkness markets analysed over 2011-2020. The Magnitude of Substance Use in India 2019 Report released by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences revealed: The report revealed that Cannabis and Opioids are the commonly used substances in India. About 2.8% of the population (3.1 crore individuals) reports having used any cannabis product within the previous the general population (more than 10%).

Cannabis and Opioids are the next commonly used substances in India. About 2.8% of the population (3.1 crore individuals) reports having used any cannabis product within the previous year. The use of cannabis was further differentiated between the legal form of cannabis(bhang) and other illegal cannabis products (ganja and charas). Use of these cannabis products was observed to be about 2% (approximately 2.2 crore persons) for bhang and about 1.2% (approximately 1.3 crore persons) for illegal cannabis products, ganja and charas. States with the highest prevalence of cannabis use are Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Sikkim, Chhattisgarh and Delhi. About 2.1% of the country’s population (2.26 crore individuals) use opioids which includes opium (or its variants like poppy husk known as doda/phukki), Heroin (or its impure form – smack or brown sugar) and a variety of pharmaceutical opioids.

Nationally, the most common opioid used is Heroin (1.14%) followed by pharmaceutical opioids (0.96%) and Opium (0.52%). Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram have the highest prevalence of opioid use in the general population (more than 10%). The survey indicated that a sizeable number of individuals use Sedatives and Inhalants. About 1.08% of 10-75 year old Indians (approximately 1.18 crore people) are current users of sedatives (non-medical, non- prescription use). States with the highest prevalence of current Sedative use are Sikkim, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. However, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat are the top five states which house the largest populations of people using sedatives. Inhalants (overall prevalence 0.7%) are the only category of substances for which the prevalence of current use among children and adolescents is higher (1.17%) than adults (0.58%). Other categories of drugs such as, Cocaine (0.10%) Amphetamine Type Stimulants 0.18%) and Hallucinogens(0.12%) are used by a small proportion of country’s population.

A far higher proportion of Heroin users are dependent on opioids when compared with users of other opioids like Opium and Pharmaceutical Opioids. Of the total estimated approximately 77 lakh people with opioid use disorders (harmful or dependent pattern) in the country, more than half are contributed by just a few states: Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. However, in terms of percentage of population affected, the top states in the country are those in the north east (Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Manipur) along with Punjab, Haryana and Delhi.

A sizeable number of people using other drugs like sedatives and inhalants also need help. In the general population, about 0.20% of Indians need help for their sedative use problems. At the national level, an estimated 4.6 lakh children and 18 lakh adults need help for their inhalant use (harmful use / dependence).

In terms of absolute numbers, states with high population of children needing help for inhalant use are: Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi and Haryana. The number of people dependent on cocaine, ATS and Hallucinogens is extremely small in comparison to the size of country’s population. Nationally, it is estimated that there are about 8.5 Lakh People Who Inject Drugs (PWID). Opioid group of drugs are predominantly injected by PWID (heroin – 46% and pharmaceutical opioids – 46%). A substantial proportion of PWID report risky injecting practices. High numbers of PWID are estimated in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Manipur and Nagaland.

A very small proportion of Indians are estimated to be current users of cocaine (Males – 0.18%, Females – 0.01%). This would mean about 10.7 lakh current users of cocaine in the country. The proportion of people using cocaine in harmful and dependent pattern is also correspondingly small (0.03%, or 3.2 lakh individuals). States with sizeable numbers of current cocaine users are Maharashtra (90,000), Punjab (27,000), Rajasthan (10,000) and Karnataka (8000).

Between 2010-2019, the number of people using drugs around the world increased by 22%, owing in part to an increase in the global population. Around 275 million people used drugs worldwide last year, while over 36 million people suffered from drug use disorders. Opioids continue to account for the largest burden of disease attributed to drug use. A rise in the non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs was also observed during the coronavirus pandemic. Access to drugs has also become simpler than ever with online sales, and major drug markets on the dark web are now worth some USD 315 million annually.

In Asia, China and India are mainly linked to shipment of drugs sold on the 19 major darknet markets analysed over 2011-2020. In a recent media report, the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has red-flagged Mumbai as the cocaine capital of India saying that other metropolitan cities are not lagging behind with the drug mafia spreading its tentacles in India, Canada and Australia. Shockingly, as much as 2499 kilograms of cocaine seized in the past two years in Sri Lanka, Port Elizabeth and Panama had India as its destination. The international market for this lethal drug is Rs 5 crore per kilogram, according to media reports. India must get serious on its war on drugs. Now, with the Taliban in control of Afghanistan, the menace of drugs will rise in India because the supply from Afghanistan will increase.

Savio Rodrigues is the founder and editor-in-chief of Goa Chronicle.


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