The drug route

Published : Aug 26, 2005 00:00 IST

CHITRA and Prem, a married couple, both professionals in their thirties, moved recently to Chennai on a transfer. One of the first things they did was to ask a friend where they could buy marijuana (ganja). The friend, though not a user himself, took them for a drive to the Marina Beach and parked the car in the vicinity of what used to be called the Ice House and is now Vivekananda Illam. A boy, not more than 10 ran up to the car and asked them what "stuff" they wanted. A sum of Rs.25 changed hands and the transaction was over, with the couple in possession of a packet of ganja. It is that simple to get one's daily fix.

Says Shankar Jiwal, south zone Director of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), the apex enforcement agency in the country: "Despite the amount of illicit drugs seized by the enforcement agencies in the country (364 kg of heroin in 2002, 213 kg in 2003 and 229 kg in 2004, in the south zone alone), the extent of availability of drugs is impossible to ascertain accurately." Every seizure is merely an indication that so much more must have gone undetected.

India's geographical location, between the "Golden Crescent" in the northwest and the "Golden Triangle" in the northeast, has rendered it vulnerable both as a destination and as a major transit route for opiates produced in the region.

For example, according to "The Extent, Pattern and Trends of Drug Abuse in India: National Survey", India's borders with Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka are areas that are vulnerable and where drugs such as heroin and cannabis are easily available. Within the country, part of the licit opium crop that is primarily required for medicinal purposes is diverted to heroin-making. The opium poppy or the marijuana plant is also illegally grown in many areas.

Shankar Jiwal cites the example of heroin coming into the country from Pakistan; heroin also comes from the opium-producing belt of the country - Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and the western parts of Uttar Pradesh. He said that some of it was diverted to the domestic black market, partly for consumption (around 1 per cent), and the rest is trafficked to Sri Lanka, West Asia and the Maldives, and sporadically to Europe and other parts of the world.

According to Jiwal, about 90 per cent of the drugs seized in the south zone are meant for Sri Lanka. The Tamil Nadu coast is a major trafficking area, where fishing and other boats ferry the illegal shipments to the island nation.

India's national policy on narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances is based on Article 47 of the Constitution which directs the state to "endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purpose of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health". Supply and demand reduction are two integral arms of the government's policy to deal with the drug issue. While the enforcement agencies work under the purview of the Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance, and take care of the supply reduction strategy, the demand reduction strategy falls under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the Ministry of Health.

THE government recognises drug abuse as a pysycho-social medical problem, which should be handled through community-based interventions. Thus, according to the Ministry of Social Justice, the government's strategy on demand reduction involves building awareness and educating people about the ill-effects of drug abuse, dealing with addicts through a programme of motivational counselling, treatment and follow-up, and social reintegration of recovered addicts. The strategy also focuses on imparting drug abuse prevention/rehabilitation training to volunteers so as to build an educated cadre of service providers.

The government follows a state-community partnership where the state bears the major share of the cost of services while voluntary organisations provide the actual services through counselling, de-addiction and rehabilitation centres, de-addiction camps and awareness programmes.

The T.T. Ranganathan Clinical Research Foundation, Chennai, is one of the regional resource training centres. According to Dr. Anit Rao, Director, Medical Services, the centre has trained service providers of 85 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The NGOs, in turn, conduct awareness and preventive education programmes to sensitise the community at large about the problem.

The National Centre for Drug Abuse Prevention, the apex body in the field of training, research and documentation of drug abuse prevention, conducts training and advocacy programmes in collaboration with state governments, NGOs and private institutions.

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