They smoke it, sniff it, eat it, inject it and temporarily escape into a deceptive world. Be it a way to fight personal crisis, means to wipe the mental scars or just a sign of being cool, the youth in Kashmir have fallen into the net of drugs, with such cases increasing by 35-40 per cent in the last few years.
Dr Arshad Hussain, a psychiatrist at the Government Psychiatric Diseases Hospital (GPDH), Kashmir, says the menace of drug addiction has gripped the city, with mostly youngsters falling into the trap."There is no doubt that drug abuse has increased in Kashmir. Historically, a low drug addiction zone, Kashmir has lost its innocence. The statistics now are alarming. Mostly youth in the 18-35 age group have fallen in the trap. Deaths are reported in young men because of opioid use," Hussain said.
When Rasheed Ahmad (name changed) remembers how he lost his brother, he cannot help but blame himself for his death. 25-year-old Rasheed worked as a trader in Goa when he succumbed to peer pressure and became an addict. "I was earning a lot but I thought my life was without any fun. So I started going to parties and night clubs in Goa. There I started having cocaine and LSD," he shivers, recalling the days. With his condition deteriorating and addiction increasing, Rasheed's parents brought him back to Kashmir. "My younger brother was forced to quit studies and started working as I became incapable of doing anything. It was just after a few months, that he met with an accident and died," he said breaking into tears. "I am responsible for his death".
Among the drugs consumed in the valley are medicinal opiates, such as Corex and Codeine. Benzodiazepines like Diazepam, Alprazolam, Alprax and cannabis derivatives like hashish and marijuana. Besides alcohol intake seems to be picking up, Yasir Arafat Zahgeer, a social worker said.
According to a report published by a local daily, a majority of Class IX students of a famous school in the valley are hooked on to nicotine and inhalants. 17-year-old Mubashir (name withheld), who is being treated at a de-addiction centre here, has a grim look but smiles when he remembers how good he was with girls at school. "I made a mistake once and then it became a compulsion," Mubashir said. He was 14 when he first started taking drugs. "I started with fluid eraser, petrol and fevicol. I was very good at studies. Everyone says I am intelligent but there is no use of it now. I wanted to become a cricketer but I wouldn't be able to do that now, I know," Mubashir said.
Noted psychiatrist Mushtaq Marghoob said, "There is no doubt that there is a surge in drug addiction cases in the Valley. It has reached the worst level. Opiate medicinal preparations as well as heroin abuse have become the most serious problem in Kashmir over the past few years."
According to a study conducted by the United Nations Drug Control Programme in 2008, there are 60,000 substance abusers in the Valley. A social worker working in a drug de-addiction centre here, Yasir Arafat Zahgeer said, "In the last two-and-a-half years, we have treated 198 patients and we have had 3500 visiting patients. Our waiting list currently has 245 people. The maximum number we can accommodate in our centre is 10. We get an average of two to four patients in a day."
Highlighting the need for increasing the number of doctors at de-addiction centres, Dr Nadeem Nazir, Medical Superintendent, Police Hospital, in Srinagar said, "There are just a few doctors here. We lack facilities. An upgrade is needed."
Largescale cultivation of cannabis and poppy in southern Kashmir and seizures of large quantities of opiates, mostly heroin, in different areas in increasing at an alarming rate, Margoob said.
Having started a drive to destroy poppy cultivation last year, Shamim Ahmad, Deputy Commissioner, Excise Duty and Taxation claims that there is a decline in poppy cultivation as compared to last year, which was the peak year. "We destroyed poppy spread on 2000 kanals (100 hectares) of land this year. We began the drive in April and it would continue till the end of this month. Poppy cultivation is highest in South Kashmir," he said.
Noted sociologist Prof B A Dabla said, "There is no official figure but individual studies reveal that an estimated 30-35 per cent of the youth (15-35 years old), both male and female, have become victim of drug addiction". Pointing towards the spread of this menace to both rural as well as urban Kashmir, he said, "This isn't limited to urban Kashmir or rural...it has spread to all areas now."
With drug addiction becoming a serious problem, department of psychiatry, Government Medical College, Srinagar took a lead by conducting awareness and intervention programs in three major districts of Srinagar, Anantnag and Baramulla. A team of experts from National De-addiction Centre, Delhi, were actively involved in this programme, Dr Arshad Hussain said.
A record number of 2500 patients were identified and a treatment plan formulated. However, many persons could not continue the treatment due to absence of proper de-addiction facilities.