Drug abuse is a patterned use of a drug in which the users consume the substance in amounts or with methods which are harmful to themselves or others. Drug abuse corrodes the foundations of society and has the potential to lead to child abuse as well as sexual and domestic violence.

The problem is global and India is no exception to it. In our country, drug-dependence is a major social issue in parts of Maharashtra, North East, Karnataka, Goa and Punjab. The fact that India is in close proximity to the Golden Crescent (Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan) as well as the Golden Triangle (Myanmar, Laos and Thailand) makes it vulnerable to drug trafficking.

What started off as casual use among a minuscule population of high-income group youth in the metros, the drug abuse has permeated all sections of the society. Cannabis, heroin, and Indian-produced pharmaceutical drugs are the most frequently abused drugs in India. Alcohol and tobacco are the most prevalent addictive substances used across India. The pharmaceutical products containing narcotic drugs are also increasingly being abused. The codeine-based cough syrups continue to be diverted from the domestic market for abuse.

To highlight the menace, the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is observed annually on June 26. The decision to mark the Day was taken on December 7, 1987 through a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly in order to strengthen global action and cooperation to achieve its aim of making the international society free of drug abuse. The Year 2019 theme of the Day was ‘Health for Justice, Justice for Health’ which emphasized that justice and health are “two sides of the same coin” when it comes to addressing the problems associated with drugs.

In February 2019, AIIMS submitted its report “Magnitude of Substance Use in India” that was sponsored by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The study found that around five crore Indians reported to have used cannabis and opioids at the time of the survey. About 60 lakh people are estimated to be needing help for their opioid use problems and nationally, it is estimated that there are about 8.5 lakh people who inject drugs. Of the total cases estimated by the report, more than half of them are from states like Assam, Delhi, Haryana, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim and Uttar Pradesh. Punjab ranks consistently at the top or in the top five in many of the surveys conducted.

One of the major reasons for drug abuse—and this is especially applicable for youngsters taking drugs—is its presence, and at times glorification, in films. Quite often it so happens that taking drugs is romanticised. Thus it becomes a thrilling and seductive affair for youngsters who can be misguided easily because of their relative lack of experience in life.

The worst impact of drug abuse is on the brain, which consequentially affects every other aspect of life of the person addicted to drugs. Drugs are primarily chemicals that affect the communication system of the human brain. They disturb the ways in which nerve cells send, process and receive information. There are a couple of ways in which drugs achieve this—they copy the natural chemical messengers of the human brain and they overstimulate the brain’s reward circuit. Drugs such as heroin and marijuana are structured in the same way as chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters.

These neurotransmitters are produced naturally by the human brain. As a result of this similarity, the drugs can fool the receptors of human brain and activate the nerve cells in such a way that they send some abnormal messages. In case of drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine, the nerve cells get activated and they release extraordinarily large volumes of neurotransmitters. They are also capable of preventing the brain from recycling these chemicals in a normal manner. A normal level of production is necessary in order to end the signal between neurons.

This disruption leads to a message that is highly amplified and this in turn disrupts the normal ways in which the brain communicates. Almost all the drugs use dopamine in order to target the reward system of the brain. Dopamine can be defined as a neurotransmitter that can be found in the areas of brain that control phenomena such as movement, motivation, emotion and various feelings such as pleasure. A most famous example of eating disorder owing to drug abuse is that of Diego Maradona, who had gained weight before the 1994 FIFA Football World Cup because of his drug abuse. He was weighing in the region of 94 kilos but soon reduced it to 77 kilos through hard work and determination and played an important role in the team’s qualification for the tournament proper.

Drug abuse manifests itself in euphoric behaviour by the user—and at most times unnaturally so. This leads to a sequence where the users keep on repeating the same action of drug abuse. When this pattern continues the brain tries to adapt to the usage by reducing its own dopamine production as well as dopamine receptors. The user tries to adapt to this through drug abuse so that his or her dopamine production level can be brought back to a level that seems normal to him or her.

Prevention is one of the ways in which drug abuse can be dealt with. In fact, it is one affliction that can be easily prevented according to medical experts and practitioners. Prevention programmes involving entities such as families, schools and the immediate communities are important in this regard. Media—especially the entertainment segment—also needs to understand its role in this context and play a positive role by resisting the urge to earn millions by romanticising and glorifying drug abuse. It needs to highlight the damning consequences of drug abuse. It is important that the youth are made to feel that drug usage itself is harmful in every conceivable way.

Sustained treatment is the only option for people who have already gone down the road of drug abuse and are highly into it. The treatment for a drug abuser normally depends on the kind of drug that the person has been using. It is said that the best treatments normally emphasize on phenomena related to the individual’s life. This includes areas such as medical, psychological and work-related needs as well as issues in relationships with other people in the person’s life. The treatment sessions combine medication and behavioural therapy so that the victim of drug abuse gradually stops feeling the urge to take drugs. These treatment programmes also impart the skills and capability required in order to say ‘no’ to drugs in the future, which is highly critical for a complete cure to drug abuse.

The Haryana Government implemented a scheme titled ‘Central Sector Scheme of Assistance for Prevention of Alcoholism and Substance (Drug) Abuse’ to curb the issue of drug abuse. Under this scheme, a financial assistance was given to the eligible NGOs, Panchayati Raj institutions and urban local bodies by the government, which in turn provided integrated services for the rehabilitation of addicts. An advisory was issued by the government to all states and UTs asking them to take measures for the prevention of substance abuse among children.

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, was enacted with stringent provisions to curb this menace. The Act envisages a minimum term of 10 years imprisonment extendable to 20 years and fine of Rs. 1 lakh extendable up to Rs. 2 lakhs for the offenders. The Act has been further amended by making provisions for the forfeiture of properties derived from illicit drug-trafficking.

India lies between two major drugs producing areas in the world i.e. Golden Crescent (Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan) and Golden Triangle (Myanmar, Thailand and Laos). In order to stop supply of drugs from these areas, international coordination is very important. We need to effectively use SAARC and ASEAN platforms for joint coordinated action against drugs trafficking.

Prevention programmes involving entities such as families, schools and the immediate communities are important in this regard. Further, common people must understand that anybody can become drug abuser. Hence society must
not ostracise drug abusers, rather they must intervene positively by at least bringing the patient to de-addiction centre. And last but not least, we all must join hands to curb this menace in the spirit of “Prevention is Better than Cure”.            

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