Till very recently my father was posted in Mizoram and on each of his visit to home, he would tell us about the people there, their culture and traditions. The thing that he talked most about was the grave situation of drug addiction in the North East India. Every third person in the region is or has been a drug addict at some point in his or her life. The most shocking thing that he told was that it is not easy to spot an old person there; not because they have a secret anti-aging potion or something, but because the life expectancy in the region is very low and most people die young; a major part of their lives goes into nothing else but drug abuse. No doubt the influence of the substance-use takes a person to a different world, completely disconnected from the reality; especially when the reality is also not so rosy as the North Eastern part of India is one of the least developed region with very few infrastructural, educational and employment opportunities. The unemployment rate of 59.3% is very high compared to the nation-wide rate of 19.7%.
The worst hit states are Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya and some parts of Assam. The main cause is the easy availability of drugs by illegal drug trafficking and the close proximity of these states to the Golden Triangle, the second largest site of opium production.
According to a survey, the most used substances are sada, bidi, cigarette, alcohol and opium. Alcoholism is another threat but it is far less prominent than drug addiction. The situation has reached terrifying dimensions because of strong links between drug addiction and HIV transmission. The other major cause of HIV apart from unsafe sex is the high incidence of IDU (Intravenous Drug Use), especially rampant in the North East. The addicts use the same contaminated needle many times and share it among many groups. However, the scope of HIV is not restricted to the drug users; it is highly prevalent among the general population as the virus is transmitted through the drug users to their sexual partners, from infected sexual partners to their children. All the North Eastern states are facing an HIV epidemic driven by both injecting drug-use and high risk sexual behavior. According to the Department of AIDS control, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the adult HIV and AIDS prevalence rates in Manipur and Nagaland are 1.57% and 1.2% respectively which are well above the national average of 0.34%. In comparison to other Indian states, the North East is less populated, but there are some 100,000 people who live with HIV and AIDS in the region.
It would be unfair to say that nothing is being done to ease the situation. There are some organizations like NACO, UNODC, Azad Foundation, among others, who have been very active in taking initiatives in this regard like increasing the availability of clean syringes and drugs like buprenorphine (a semi-synthetic opioid that is used to treat opioid addiction). Several rehabilitation centers have also been set up but all these measures would not be sufficient if the root causes are not addressed and eradicated. Stern measures should be taken to stop the easy availability of drugs and the people involved in drug-trafficking should be severely punished.
The people who indulge in substance-abuse should be retold the value of life and the hazards of drug addiction and HIV AIDS; they should be given employment opportunities and better educational facilities. These people need to be shown hope. It is the responsibility of not only the Government of India or the NGOs but of all of us and we should not hesitate to participate in this drive whenever the opportunity presents itself.
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