Development Means Nothing: If Drug Use Or Rather Abuse Is Free to Float

Posted on June 10, 2012 in Society

By Ankur Sohanpal:

The idea of inclusive growth and prosperity is a relatively new one for me, and it is perhaps a couple of years or so that have seen me being involved in philanthropic acts/thoughts in a structured way. Before this, I would accept things the way I have seen them — so there is a beggar in my train with stubbed limbs? No problem — I’ve seen plenty like him before, it’s sad, but I think I won’t lose sleep tonight. Not so anymore. It is perhaps a combination of age-induced maturity, awareness, and upbringing that has sensitized me towards several issues in India, or the place I like to fondly call the Japan of developing nations. While I do pride myself on knowing a lot about developmental issues that my peers probably do not, I admit that knowing about drug use/abuse did not figure on my priority list of things that were important for India. How wrong was I?

The minute I went through the statistics, it was like a jolt of pure electricity. I figured that our country, with its traditional set of values would be comparatively less exposed and involved with drugs. Not true — there are some at least some 3 million people in India who are drug dependent, excluding alcohol users or abusers. It strikes me — the developmental programmes, aids, funds and everything that I normally concentrate upon — would be rendered useless if the recipients are growingly incapable of sustaining the benefits of it, due to a societal infrastructure hollowed in due to substance abuse. What is then, the point of working for development when it is being countered by practices such as these?

In India, there are two main segments of drug abusers — those that are dirt poor, and will use drugs such as ganja (cannabis), and cheaper intravenous injections of analgesics like dextropropoxphene, and those that are part of spoilt upper middle class or of the upper class, in terms of economic status, who use heroin, cannabis, and other more expensive forms of substances. In the middle of all this is the emerging middle class whose purchasing power increases every day, which I fear is vulnerable to drugs all the same due to the same factors that have historically induced people of all other economic categories to indulge in this self-destructive malpractice. At this point I would like to remind everyone of the typical, known socio-economic burden of drug-use — human capital is lost, economic opportunities are lost (sometimes families quit studies/other activities to sustain livelihoods that should have been earned by the head of the family who lies wasted with drugs, who borrows more and more for his habits, increasing the burden of his family further), users contract diseases like HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B & C, and much, much more.

Thus it was of great relief to me to find out about the number of facilities, both governments provided, non-profit bodies provided as well as those provided by private bodies. I have learned that there are two ways of combating drug-abuse adoption — supply side measures, and demand side measures. Supply side measures are understandably those that constrict supply. Demand side measures, in our country, are controlled by Ministries of Health & Family Welfare (MOHFW), and Social Justice & Empowerment (MOSJE). The MOHFW de-addicts by way of provision of treatment — it has 122 drug de-addiction centres across the country, while a central nodal agency has been instated alongside AIIMS, with branches in Bombay, Bangalore, Chandigarh, and Ranchi. The MOSJE works progressively by involving NGOs and letting them manage the counselling and awareness centres with funds being backed by the MOSJE. MOSJE is currently assisting 361 voluntary organizations for maintaining 376 addiction-cum-rehabilitation centres, and 68 counselling and awareness centres, the average allocation budget for this being US$ 5 million. These measures were instated, beginning early 80s, while much of the innovative breakthroughs in terms of rehabilitation (like mobile rehabilitation centres, etc.) was done after 2005 — that’s a sufficiently long time to warrant a want of actual returns in terms of drug-use percentage reduction, in my opinion. In combination with these, a number of private and semi-private institutions are providing assistance. My query is — are these measures enough?

A survey conducted by MOSJE, UNDCP, and aligned NGOs on 1271 random individuals from cities across India brought back results to ponder over — alcohol was used by 74% (percentage usage during previous year standing at 43%), heroin stood at 48% (percentage usage during previous year being 38%), cannabis at 36% (percentage usage during previous year being 6%), sedatives and cough syrups at 15% and 12% (percentage usage during previous year being 3% and 1%), opium at 23% (percentage usage during previous year being 9%) and other opiates at 7% (percentage usage during previous year being 4%).

Obviously things are opposite of what we hoped for — there is a clear increase in drug-usage, if these measures are to proxy for the general Indian drug-usage. Rehabilitation methods are obviously not working. Perhaps that was putting it too bluntly. To say that rehabilitation efforts are yielding very low results as compared to projections and anticipated outcomes would be correct.

Clearly, bodies with individuals and intellectuals specifically equipped with expertise in this field have failed in their policies and methods to being about rehabilitation. This is where I believe the youth of India has the opportunity to intervene. No other group of population in our country is better placed to bring about real change, nor is more vulnerable to practices of drug-usage. This is where the movement is to begin, and I hope I did my part in trying to being this to the attention of my peers.