India needs to curb increasing drug addiction tendencies

Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon

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UNODC World Drug Report 2022

India is one of the world's single largest opiate markets in terms of users.

India has the fourth largest, quantities of opium, seized in 2020 at 5.2 tons.

About 3.8 tons of heroin were seized in 2020 in India, the fifth highest in the world.

Apex anti-smuggling agency, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence submitted to the Supreme Court, in December 2022 that the seizure of Heroin increased from 237 kgs in 2019 to 14,967 kgs till September 2022.

Reacting to the above findings of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) World Drug Report 2022 UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly stated, "Numbers for the manufacturing and seizures of many illicit drugs are hitting record highs, even as global emergencies are deepening vulnerabilities. At the same time, misperceptions regarding the magnitude of the problem and the associated harms are depriving people of care and treatment and driving young people towards harmful behaviours."

"We need to devote the necessary resources and attention to addressing every aspect of the world drug problem, including the provision of evidence-based care to all who need it, and we need to improve the knowledge base on how illicit drugs relate to other urgent challenges, such as conflicts and environmental degradation," Waly added.

drug abuse
Representational image | Mathrubhumi

Drug addiction is a major problem around the world, taking a toll on global health, social and economic functioning. In India, consuming narcotic drugs is fairly widespread among all sections of the population. Adversely affected are young persons, families, workplaces and communities. Some of the social effects of drug use include emotional dysregulation, anti-social behaviours, and poor relationship formation patterns. Economically, individual productivity and potential are critically affected which increases poverty.

To tackle this growing problem, there are constant efforts through awareness and sensitizations, drug education, counselling and rehabilitation, but less attention has been given to evidence-based programs that are more cost-effective and with greater reach and effect.

Prevention is one of the main components of a health-centered system to address drugs as mandated by the three International Drug Control Conventions: The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 as amended by the 1972 Protocol, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988 Prevention of alcohol and drug use aims at healthy and safe development of children and youth.

The science of prevention involves the study of human development and social ecology as well as the identification of factors and processes that lead to positive and negative health behaviours and outcomes. Risk factors include lack of knowledge about drugs and the consequences of their use, genetic predisposition, personality traits (e.g., impulsivity, sensation seeking), the presence of mental and behavioural disorders, family neglect and abuse, poor attachment to school and the community, social norms and environments conducive to drug abuse, and growing up in marginalized and deprived communities. Protective factors that have been identified to reduce individual vulnerabilities include psychological and emotional well-being, personal and social competence and a strong attachment to parents, schools, colleges and communities.

Representational image | Mathrubhumi

To control the constantly growing number of drug users, both, the Central government and the State governments, have to formulate guidelines to produce positive outcomes for the targeted populations. All interventions and policies must be grouped by the settings in which programs are implemented and major developmental stages in the life of an individual from pregnancy, infancy and early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Guidelines are needed to:
Advise on the best practices in prevention interventions and policies;
Ensure professionalism in planning and implementation of prevention interventions;
Provide guidelines and minimum requirements for service providers to ensure recipients of prevention interventions are protected;
Foster the development of a national prevention system that will support children, youth and adults in different settings to lead positive, healthy and safe lifestyles.

Prevention programs should be designed to reach target populations in their primary settings. The primary settings include family, school, workplace and community. In addition to setting, prevention programs can also be described by the audience for which they need to be designed, namely:

  • Universal programs that are designed for the general population, such as all students in a school;
  • Selective programs that target groups at risk or subsets of the general population, such as poor academic achievers or children of drug abusers;
  • Indicated programs that are designed for people already experimenting with drugs.
Family prevention programs are intended to strengthen protective factors among young children by teaching parents/guardians better family communication skills, age-appropriate discipline styles, firm and consistent rule enforcement, and other family management approaches.

The programs should enhance family bonding and relationships and include parenting skills; practice in developing, discussing, and enforcing family policies on substance use; and training in drug education and information.

School prevention programs should focus on children’s social and academic skills, including enhancing peer relationships, self-control and drug-refusal skills. If possible, school-based prevention programs should be integrated into the school’s academic program, because poor academic performance is strongly suggestive of drug use.

Representational image | Mathrubhumi

Community prevention programs work at the community level with civic, religious, law enforcement and other government, and social organizations, to enhance anti-drug use norms and pro-social behaviours. Community-based programs also typically include the development of policies or enforcement of regulations, mass media efforts, and community-wide awareness programs.

Workplace prevention programs focus on the workplace (on-the-job) and workforce (off-the-job) drug use. The programs should be designed to meet the different populations at the workplace namely universal, selective or indicated.

Parenting skills programs deal with imparting proper parenting skills. Parents need to set rules for acceptable behaviours, closely monitor free time and friendship patterns, and help children to acquire personal and social skills.

Adolescence is a developmental period when youth are exposed to new ideas and behaviours through increased associations with people and organizations beyond those in childhood. It is a time to “try out” adult roles and responsibilities. It is also a time when the “plasticity” and malleability of the adolescent brain suggest that interventions can reinforce or alter earlier experiences. The desire to assume adult roles and more independence at a time when significant changes are occurring in the adolescent brain also creates a potentially opportune time for poorly thought-out decisions and involvement in potentially harmful behaviours. Such behaviours often include drug use, risky sexual behaviours, smoking tobacco, consumption of alcohol and rash driving. Peer acceptance and rejection, are important influences on behaviour, but parental influence remains supreme.

School, college and university policies on drug use should dictate that both students and staff shall not use them on the premises. Policies should also create transparent and non-punitive mechanisms to address incidents of use transforming it into an educational and health-promoting opportunity.

Representational image | Mathrubhumi

The vast majority of drug use occurs among working adults. Such usage exposes employees to health risks and difficulties in their relationships with colleagues, friends and family, as well as safety risks within the workplace. Young adults are at high risk as job strain is a risk factor for developing a drug addiction. Conversely, employers also bear a significant cost of drug use. Employees with drug abuse problems have higher absenteeism rates and lower productivity, are more likely to cause accidents and have higher healthcare costs and turnover rates. Moreover, employers have to provide and maintain a safe and healthy workplace under the applicable law and regulations.

Entertainment venues include bars, clubs and restaurants as well as outdoor or special settings where large-scale events may occur. These venues can have both positive and negative impacts on the health and well-being of citizens, as they provide social meeting spaces and support the local economy, but at the same time, they are identified as high-risk settings for many risky behaviours, such as alcohol and drug use, drunk driving and aggression. The focus should be on the management of intoxicated patrons; changes in laws and policies, e.g., with regard to serving alcohol to minors or intoxicated persons, or with regard to driving under influence of alcohol and/or drugs; high visibility enforcement of existing laws and policies.

The influence of media exerts a profound influence on the psychosocial development of young people. In particular, popular culture (e.g., celebrities, film and music) can strongly influence the initiation of risky behaviours such as alcohol and drug use. Due to the unique neurodevelopmental context of young people, they are particularly susceptible to the influence of popular culture and their actions are not simply a result of ignorance.

Hence, both Central and State governments should put in place a comprehensive Anti-Drugs Policy, for use in schools, colleges, universities, workplaces, and in entertainment zones. Since, present-day anti-drug programs are mostly in the form of sports events like marathons, cycle and motorcycle events, and talks by eminent personalities, these have very limited persuasive appeal. What is needed is a comprehensive anti-drugs policy which should be taught as a part of the school curriculum, as also the serious physical and psychological damage caused by drug consumption. India needs to control and reign in the increasing drug addiction tendencies. Policymakers should see beyond the enforcement angle to protect and shield the young population, and future generations.

The author is former Director General of National Academy of Customs, Indirect Taxes & Narcotics

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