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  • Writer's pictureShipra Swaraj

The Impact of Drug Abuse in India: Exploring Effective Public Health Interventions

Drugs are multifaceted substances in nature, commonly associated with recreational use but also have important medical applications for preventing and treating diseases. The misuse of drugs is a serious concern that negatively impacts society, particularly young people.

The World Drug Report for 2023 reveals that the global number of individuals engaging in drug injection in 2021 was 13.2 million, marking an 18 percent increase from previous estimates.

Additionally, the report emphasizes the interplay between social and economic disparities and drug-related issues, the environmental and human rights violations stemming from illegal drug industries, and the growing prevalence of synthetic drugs.

Alarmingly, only 20 percent of individuals with drug-related disorders received treatment in 2021, and there are notable disparities in treatment accessibility among different regions.

Let's dive deep into the drug issue that's currently creeping into the youth of India.

AA picture showing a credit card and white powder formed in the shape of a skull denoting cocaine.

The Complex History and Contemporary Challenges of Drug Use in India

Drug abuse in India is a developing problem with serious repercussions for security, social stability, and public health. Due to its enormous population and geographical position, the country is particularly susceptible to the problems that drug usage poses.

India is geographically situated between the Golden Crescent and the Golden Triangle, both of which are significant regions for opium production. The Golden Crescent includes Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, while the Golden Triangle encompasses Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam.

These regions have historically been major sources of illegal opium production. It results in widespread use of illicit drugs in India as well as domestic drug misuse.

A report indicates that approximately 2.8% of all Indians take drugs. According to the latest 2021 data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Maharashtra, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu have the highest numbers of drug possession cases registered with 8583, 5098, and 4943 cases respectively.

However, the use of marijuana is not new in India. Reports of cannabis use in India can be traced back to ancient times, specifically mentioned in the Atharva-Veda, a sacred text believed to have been written between 2000-1400 BCE. One can also find its reference in Indian mythology. We are all very aware of its confederacy with Lord Shiva – the Hindu deity.

Throughout history, cannabis has been consumed in various forms in India, including smoking (referred to as ganja), chewing (known as bhaang), and even as an ingredient in beverages like tea.

These ancient references highlight the long-standing cultural and historical significance of cannabis use in India.

The Evolution of Cannabis Laws in India: From Legalization to Prohibition

Before 1985, growing, selling, and using cannabis was legal in India, benefiting many communities for various purposes like rope, sacks, oils, and pet products.

However, in 1985, India categorized it as a Class A narcotic, following the U.S., leading to strict enforcement against large-scale sellers. Currently, Cannabis fruits and flowers are illegal in India but its leaves, stems, and seeds are not subject to criminal law.

However, drug use has a significant impact on people. First of all, it causes severe health risks that eventually affect your mental status. It could also be pretty addictive. Physical injury and mental health problems are other consequences of it. 

Prohibition helps prevent people from using hazardous drugs and safeguards the public's health. Second, the illegal drug trade can encourage violence and organized crime, compromising public security and safety.

Growing Drug Misuse in India

Punjab and other parts of India are experiencing a serious societal problem with drug misuse. Particularly in Punjab, drug addiction has significantly increased, earning the region the nickname "Drug Capital of India."

Drug crimes that harm individuals, families, and communities are being brought on by the accessibility of substances like heroin and synthetic opioids. But Punjab is not the only place that is struggling with this problem.

Drug misuse is an issue that affects both urban and rural areas nationwide. The pervasive drug problem is a result of several factors, including peer pressure, unemployment, and ignorance.

Enhanced law enforcement, extensive rehabilitation programs, and public awareness campaigns are just a few of the coordinated measures that must be made to address this threat.

Drug Legalization in India: Balancing Economic Considerations and Public Health

Legalizing drugs could have benefits such as reducing the black market, decreasing crime associated with the drug trade, and ensuring safer consumption through regulated quantities.

They propose that the government should establish a well-regulated system for drug legalization, promote accurate drug awareness programs, and invest in drug education, treatment, and rehabilitation.

Since drugs are illegal, money that would otherwise be in the hands of the government and law-abiding citizens is instead given to criminal organizations. When something is forbidden, a black market emerges to profit from it.

Afghanistan is the major source of illicit opiates for both the world and India, but since gaining power, the Taliban has declared it will outlaw the drug trade.

However, given India's high rates of poverty and unemployment, the government wouldn't benefit from making drugs legal. It will only lead to health problems for people.

Children would be exposed to narcotics at a very young age, just like in other nations. At one place criminalization of drugs like marijuana may not be justified morally as it takes away our rights over our bodies and empowers the government, it can also make you happy and feel peaceful but it's very addictive, and excessive use of it may result in making you antisocial.

It also leads to domestic violence on a large scale. Additionally, given that India is attempting to combat drug use, the pacts it has signed with the UN to do so make this a poor initiative.

India's Multi-Pronged Approach to Combating Drug Abuse

To combat the drug epidemic, a country requires both strong laws and a strong will. The reason is that drug dealers are incredibly effective and mobile. Their work has become considerably simpler thanks to UPI transactions. 

Fentanyl, a very hazardous narcotic, is currently flooding America and killing a great number of people. Even at a lower socioeconomic level, people are addicted to cheap substitutes.

The image of children licking printing waste can influence individuals for the rest of their lives. When someone becomes drug dependent, they are reduced to skeletons. Just a body's outline; there is no spirit or will to survive.

However, the Indian government has made significant strides to address the issues surrounding domestic abuse in India.

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, or NDPS Act, is a law passed by the Indian Parliament in 1985 that prohibits the production, manufacture, cultivation, possession, sale, purchase, transportation, storage, use, and consumption of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has launched the National Action Plan for Drug Demand Reduction (NAPDDR) from 2018 to 2025 that aims to lessen the negative effects of drug abuse in the nation through various approaches and support systems like education campaigns in colleges and schools, peer-led interactions and intervention programs in communities for at-risk youth and adolescents, workshops and seminars involving parents, and the development of service providers' capacity, etc.

The Nasha Mukt Bharat Abhiyan (NMBA) was launched on 15.08.2020 in 372 highly vulnerable districts, with over 8,000 youth volunteers actively engaging in extensive community outreach efforts.

To date, NMBA has successfully reached over 3.12 crore young individuals and more than 2.06 crore women. Furthermore, the government supports 340 Integrated Rehabilitation Centers for Addicts (IRCAs).

These centers not only offer treatment for individuals struggling with substance abuse but also provide essential services such as preventive education, awareness campaigns, motivational counseling, detoxification and de-addiction, aftercare, and reintegration into society.

India has also signed numerous agreements with the UN to fight the drug trade. As an example, consider the 1961 United Nations Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the UN Convention on the Illicit Trade in Psychoactive Substances, and 1988's UN Convention against the Illicit Trade in Narcotics, Drugs, and Psychotropic Substances.

Drawing Lessons from Abroad: A Proactive Approach to Drug Control in India

In countries like America, Colombia, and Mexico, drug abuse has caused immense problems. America has been devastated by overdose deaths and strained healthcare resources. It has caused families and communities to fall apart.

Due to the illegal drug trade, drug cartels have significantly increased their influence and authority in Colombia and Mexico, which has resulted in extensive bloodshed and corruption.

Drawing insights from the troubles faced by these countries due to drug abuse, India can proactively address this issue through comprehensive policies, awareness campaigns, and robust law enforcement.

Considering India's context, implementing strict drug prohibition is crucial to prevent similar consequences. India's large population and diverse demographics make it vulnerable to drug-related challenges. By learning from the experiences of other countries, India can avoid falling into deep turmoil.

A proactive approach to drug prevention, education, and law enforcement can safeguard public health, maintain social harmony, and protect the nation from the devastating impacts of drug abuse.

Drug Legalization Dilemma: Considering the Unique Challenges of India

The drug policy in the United States is a complex patchwork, with some states legalizing, certainly promoting drug abuse and illegal drug trade, with varying regulations and enforcement across states. The government's role in this can be seen as contributing to the mixed messaging around drug use.

Contrastingly, developed countries like Canada have successfully implemented drug legalization without severely affecting their economies. Legalization of marijuana in countries like Amsterdam, Canada has led to a decrease in rates of crimes and the death rate as well. 

However, India faces unique challenges due to its status as a developing nation. The healthcare system in India is often stretched thin, unemployment rates are high, and poverty is widespread.

Many impoverished children already resort to using low-cost drugs to stave off hunger, which has detrimental effects on their mental and physical health.

Legalizing drugs in India may not yield the same results as in developed countries, as the risk of overuse and adverse effects on mental cognition could be much more pronounced given the existing socioeconomic disparities.

Therefore, a cautious and context-specific approach to drug policy is essential in India to protect public health and well-being. Regulations are not properly applied. Negligence by law enforcement agencies also facilitates the trafficking of illegal drugs.

The drug challenge in India presents a complex set of obstacles. The emerging use of drones and the proliferation of digital payment systems like UPI have added new dimensions to the drug supply chain.

While seizing drugs remains crucial, building a reliable network of informants and improving the ability to anticipate supply movements are paramount.

However, cooperation among law enforcement agencies from various countries proves challenging, given the extensive open sea and land routes that India shares with its neighbors.

To tackle this persistent issue effectively, many experts advocate for the establishment of a dedicated organization similar to the U.S. DEA.

Such an agency would be instrumental in coordinating efforts and addressing the evolving challenges posed by drug trafficking in India's strategic geographical location.


Way Forward

In conclusion, India should prohibit drug use to protect its citizens' well-being and societal stability. Drawing insights from the troubles faced by America, Colombia, and Mexico due to drug abuse, India can proactively address this issue through comprehensive policies, awareness campaigns, and robust law enforcement.

Indeed, India has the potential to effectively address its drug abuse issues through a multi-pronged approach. This includes the implementation of robust drug prevention and educational initiatives aimed at raising awareness about the dangers of drug abuse.

Strengthening law enforcement efforts to combat drug trafficking and distribution networks is crucial. Furthermore, enhancing the availability and accessibility of treatment and rehabilitation facilities, along with public awareness campaigns, can provide vital support to individuals struggling with addiction.

Establishing community-based support systems and engaging the youth through employment and engagement programs can help mitigate the root causes of drug abuse.

Lastly, a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation framework can ensure that these efforts yield positive results and allow for necessary adjustments along the way.

By combining these strategies, India has the potential to gain better control over its drug abuse issues and safeguard the well-being of its citizens.



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Shipra Swaraj has a Masters in Political Science from Patna University, India. She is currently a Researcher at Grant Thornton and a Researcher/Writer at the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability.


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