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Decriminalising Drugs Might Help Reduce Addiction. Here’s How

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India has been grappling with a severe drug problem, which has largely been ignored. It has been estimated that there are about 8.5 lakh people in the country who inject drugs. Around five crore Indians reported having used cannabis and opioids at the time of the survey (conducted in the year 2018). Alcohol is the most abused substance in India. The age group of drug abusers has decreased from 25-30 years to 15-20 years, which is an alarming situation.

Historically, the criminalisation of drugs started because of the USA’s war against drugs in 1971. This went on to become the reason why some countries even criminalised drugs they had never heard of before. In the late 19th century, opiates were being used by elderly white women for their chronic ailments and it was completely legal. However, as soon as thousands of people from China started coming to America for work and using these opiates, they became prohibited.

How Did Prohibition Of Marijuana Come Into Existence?

The same old story of racism seems to be the driving force. When African Americans and Mexicans started using the plant, something which was against the then prevalent societal norms of racial discrimination, bang came the law prohibiting the usage of cannabis. When the conception of the laws are based on who is using the drug, how can one not expect it to be discriminatory? And to no one’s surprise, this is slowly changing; cannabis has now been decriminalised in 15 states.

smoking pot
For representation only. Source: Chandan Khanna/Getty

This is not the first time the USA has prohibited something and then rolled back on their decision. In the 1920s, the USA prohibited alcohol to increase the productivity of the workers. But the decision was rolled back after they realised that they were losing out on tax revenue, and organised crime received a major boost due to bootlegging.

A study found that alcohol consumption fell, at first, to approximately 30% of its pre-prohibition level; but over the next several years, increased to about 60–70% of the level. Eventually, it was legalised in 1933. We can see that prohibition had no effect on the abuse of a substance on a long-term basis.

In early 2019, the United Nations chief executive board, representing 31 UN agencies, endorsed decriminalisation of drug possession. India needs to decriminalise all drugs, this is the time to take radical decisions.

This endorsement comes from experiences of countries like Portugal. In the 1990s, Portugal was suffering from a severe heroin addiction problem ⁠— it is estimated that nearly 1% of the population were regular users. But in 2001, it took a radical decision of decriminalising all drugs. Even though drugs remained illegal per se, the possession of small amounts of drugs would not lead to arrest.

The Portuguese government saw a way to rehabilitate the victims through healthcare system and not the criminal system. Before decriminalisation, around 90% of funds were spent on fighting drugs and just 10% on healthcare. But after 2001, the ratio was reversed. The number of rehabilitation centres increased from 6,000 in 1999 to  28,000 in 2008. And the number of those using heroin fell, from about 100,000 to around 50,000 today. Also, drug-related deaths have fallen dramatically.

In 2015, Portugal had just six deaths per million people, the lowest in Western Europe, and a tiny fraction of that in the U.S., which had 245 deaths for every million people.

The major mistake that the States have made is of treating drugs as a criminal issue rather than a health issue. The cost of criminalising is humongous. Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimates that the cost of policing low-level drug possession offences in the USA exceeds $4.28 billion annually, and this does not include the massive additional cost of courts in the USA. But, if these drugs were legalised, the government could start generating tax revenue, which can then be used to regulate the market to make it safer.

Similar trends have been observed in Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, and England where people, who have been addicted to heroin for many years and repeatedly tried to quit but failed, can get pharmaceutical heroin. Illegal drug abuse, overdose, criminal activities, and arrests decreased, while health and well-being improved; taxpayers benefited and many of the addicts ended up quitting as well.

We have to take a humanitarian, compassionate and kind approach by rehabilitating the victims through healthcare system, and not the criminal system. India must set up more rehabilitation centres.

This creates a climate in which people who are using drugs in an unhealthy manner have an incentive to seek treatment. This would improve the cost-effectiveness of our limited public health resources, and also reduce the number of people arrested, incarcerated, or otherwise swept into the justice system.

The article was originally published here

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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