Kerala’s flourishing shadow drugs industry

Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon

Representational Image | Mathrubhumi

While the Kerala government is engaged in a multi-pronged strategy to contain the spiraling drug-abuse, unabated daily seizures of ganja and MDMA (Ecstasy), indicates a flourishing shadow drug industry run by drug racketeers, peddlers, financiers, as also connected enablers. Seizures and arrest statistics by different enforcement agencies, reveal a steady upward trend. A news report in, dated Saturday 19th November 2022, states that “Kerala witnessed Rs 14.6 crore worth drug seizures and 1,038 related arrests in last 35 days”. According to a statement given by the Excise Minister, 957.7 gm of MDMA, 1,428 gm Methamphetamine, 13.9 gm LSD stamps, 245.5 gm hashish oil, 187.6 gm narcotic pills, 16 injection ampoules, 147.7 kg ganja and 181 ganja plants were seized during this period. This figure does not include seizures by central government agencies.

The popularity of Ecstasy or Molly which is slang for MDMA or Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, a synthetic drug, which is a stimulant and hallucinogen, is high among students and even fishermen. Data of the State Crime Records Bureau (SCRB) from 2016 to 2022 January indicates that the state is turning into a hub of drug dealers as well as consumers. The data includes the details of seizures of nearly 19 types of drugs in the past six years. A total of 20,631.69 kg of ganja was seized during this period. A total of 45,854 cases were registered from 2016 to 2022. A total of 26,373 people were arrested in the state for drug dealing and among them, 48,559 were men and 79 were women.

The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) in October 2022, arrested the managing director of a fruit import company, in Kalady, at Vashi (Mumbai) whose truck carrying imported Valencia oranges, had Cocaine and other drugs concealed worth ₹1,476 crore. Further investigations have revealed that 313 shipments of fruits had arrived at Kalady. 198 kg of ultra-pure crystal methamphetamine and 9 kg of cocaine were seized from the orange boxes.

Representative Image: AFP

MDMA seizures have been reported regularly from Kaloor, Pandalam, Thodupuzha, Angamaly, Aluva, Karukutty, Kaipamangalam, Kannur, Kochi, Keralapuram, Palakkad, Wayanad and many other towns and cities. Most of the arrested peddlers are youngsters, both men and women so also are their clientele.

The Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan candidly disclosed in the State Legislative Assembly in September 2022 that Kerala had become an important hub of narcotics and psychotropic substances. “Narcotics are freely available in schools and colleges across the State. Drugs are sold directly in class rooms”. The Chief Minister disclosed that the increase in the seizure of narcotics in the State during the last three years has been alarming. “In 2020 the authorities seized 4,000 kg cannabis in Kerala while the quantity seized in 2021 was 6,100 kg. This year, till August, the agencies have seized more than a tonne of cannabis in addition to MDMA and hashish oil.”

MDMA is the most popular drug, which is being widely used by students, youths, auto rickshaw drivers, bus and truck drivers. Peddlers are not illiterate or shabbily clad people but many hold Engineering and MBA degrees. The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had arrested many Keralites, including the son of a prominent politician, for trafficking Ecstasy in Bangalore, and supplying the same to prominent musicians and actors.

Representative Image /
Photo: Pradeep Kumar BS

MDMA use is highest in Australia. Ecstasy is a "mainstream" drug in Australia, used by a demographically diverse range of people in a variety of contexts. It also enjoys a reputation as a “Dance-Drug”. It is estimated that about 55,000 Malayalees reside in Australia. It is possible that the current craze for ‘ecstasy’ drug among Kerala’s youngsters has an Australian connection. Ernakulam district tops in ‘ecstasy’ use, and it is suspected that students studying in Bangalore, Mangalore and Delhi, may be bringing the drug for sale on a regular basis for profit, or for personal drug consumption, or for use in private parties. It is impossible to detect the drug in any baggage, as they are very minute, hence the trafficking is going on unhindered.

A commonly noticed side effect of usage of Ecstasy is the tendency of the user to bite the inner cheeks, due to muscle tension, teeth grinding and jaw movements. Users often experience severe depression, anxiety and exhaustion, several days after taking the drug. It's sometimes called ‘Suicide Tuesday’ or ‘Tuesday Blues’. The drug also makes the user to become very thirsty and dehydrated and hence the urge to drink a lot of water, is noticed among the users. Some even fill their mouths with ice cubes at regular intervals. Such is the acute thirst caused by Ecstasy. An Ecstasy pill above a level of 125 milligrams can be very fatal.

Consumption of Ecstasy could be behind the wave of teen crimes and suicides, as also the wild and weird behaviour that is reported in the media very often. Ecstasy consumption is also contributing to increasing road accidents.

In February 2022, Customs officials at Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) made a massive seizure of over Rs 9 crores of heroin and ecstasy pills, in parcels that had come from Belgium. In Mumbai the NCB seized 3,056 ecstasy pills sourced from Belgium in August 2020. As per UNODC World Drug Report 2020, the drug Ecstasy is manufactured in Europe, most noticeably in Western and Central Europe. Europe accounts for nearly two thirds of the Ecstasy laboratories dismantled worldwide. There are plenty of Indians in Europe doing businesses and a large number of students, who could be potential targets for drug traffickers.

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A June 2022 report in The Guardian has warned that an “unprecedented shift” in the drug market caused by a combination of Brexit, Covid lockdowns and police operations against supply chains has led to a sharp and potentially harmful increase in fake MDMA. The drug-checking charity ‘The Loop’, whose researchers visited three English music festivals last summer and tested hundreds of pills that buyers had believed were MDMA in a mobile laboratory, discovered that 45% of substances sold as MDMA contained none of the drug – and instead were made up of substances including Cathinones and Caffeine. Their report also flags up research from the harm reduction project Wedinos that found about 15% of products sold as MDMA that it tested in 2021 contained only Cathinones and 14% only Caffeine. Two-thirds of the product sold as MDMA that it analyzed did contain the drug. It suggests that Covid lockdowns led to MDMA suppliers curtailing or halting production. When in the summer of 2021 nightclubs and festivals began to reopen, there was a sudden, high demand for “party drugs” but MDMA manufacturers, especially in the Netherlands, were slow to increase supply. Expert drug trade observers said the shortage of MDMA in the UK, a country with one of the highest rates of ecstasy use in Europe, is likely due to the impacts of the pandemic on Dutch MDMA producers, who make most of the world’s MDMA, and business decisions by drug traffickers. Drug busts across Europe over the last year were linked to police cracking open encrypted messaging networks used by drug traffickers such as EncroChat.

Enforcement agencies operating in Kerala, need to be on the lookout for fake Ecstasy tablets being sold to unsuspecting youth. Further, like their counterparts abroad, the focus should be on disrupting the drug supply chains.

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

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