Youth hooked on ‘Ecstasy’
It made me sad to read the arrest of a final-year engineering student studying in Manipal Institute of Technology by Udupi police after he was caught with 488 MDMA tablets worth Rs 15 lakh. I had set up the Centre for Narcotics & Psychotropic Substances (CNPS) at Manipal University in 2019. This Centre was the first of its kind among any Deemed-to-be Universities in India. Conducting awareness programs for students and staff, training programs for Police, Customs and Forest departments, organizing seminars, workshops were part of the mandate. I also delivered the plenary address on the ‘American Opioid Crisis’ at the Florida International University (FIU) in May 2019. The issue confronting everyone everywhere is the rising drug consumption among the youth.
For the first time in India a national survey was conducted to determine the extent of drug abuse by the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment. The report was titled "Magnitude of Substance Use in India, 2019". The report reveals that a substantial number of people use psychoactive substances in India, and substance use exists in all the population groups, but adult men bear the brunt of substance use disorders. This survey also indicates that there are wide variations in extent and prevalence of use across different states and between various substances. About 0.70% of Indians (approximately 77 lakh individuals) are estimated to need help for their opioid use problems. At the national level, an estimated 4.6 lakh children and 18 lakh adults need help for their inhalant use (harmful use / dependence). Nationally, it is estimated that there are about 8.5 lakh people who inject drugs. The use of heroin has surpassed opium as the most commonly used Opioid.
In the Global Drug Survey 2019, in which India participated for the first time, it has come to light that Tobacco, Alcohol and Cannabis were among the most common drugs used by Indians.
However, the youth of today are high-sensation-seekers and prefer drugs like Ecstasy or MDMA which is an abbreviation for methylenedioxy-methylamphetamine.It acts as a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant and has a weak hallucinogenic property more accurately described as increased sensory awareness. This drug is under international control and is listed in Schedule I of the United Nations 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. This drug produces feelings of increased energy, pleasure, emotional warmth. It is very popular in nightclubs and rave parties. As it promotes emotional warmth and feeling of pleasure, its use leads to uninhibited sex. The drug is consumed in pill form or capsules. Ecstasy or MDMA acts by increasing the activity of three brain chemicals: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. All this leads to enhanced enjoyment, hence its extreme popularity among college students and young adults. The ‘happy high’ that Ecstasy gives makes it common among youth circles.
New variants of Ecstasy coming into the market are known as ‘Frosch’ and ‘Lamborghini’, which were seized by the Customs in Chennai in July 2020. Ecstasy is mainly manufactured in laboratories in Europe.
If a person takes Ecstasy, his or her body can dangerously overheat during dancing or other physical activities, which can lead to muscle breakdown; kidney, liver, and heart damage; and even death. Ecstasy use can cause seizures, brain swelling, possible brain damage, and even death..
Ecstasy use has been linked to aggressive and violent behaviour being exhibited by users, hence it has a nick name ‘hug drug or thug drug’. The large number of seizures of Ecstasy drugs, especially from students should be viewed very seriously. It implies that a large number of students are using this drug and very soon will become habitual users. Educational institutions need to maintain constant vigil on the campuses and hostels to detect suspected drug abusers. In this context it is worth mentioning that, strong resistance in our educational institutions to Police entering campuses and hostels are seen. Vice Chancellor and Management strongly oppose any kind of Police presence on campuses. On the contrary, in American Universities, they permit a Police outpost on the campus. Uniformed Police officers patrol the campus and hostels to detect drug usage and campus violence. I visited some Police outposts and interacted with the personnel about their duties and responsibilities. It came as a surprise to me to learn that colleges and universities with enrolments higher than 2500 permit opening of Police outposts to check drug consumption and crime rates. The fundamental motivation of drug traffickers and peddlers is to attract more students to expand their customer base. Every fresh batch on the campus means potential new customers, of which many are likely to remain lifelong loyal members. Students are trapped by addict peers, peddlers and corrupt staff members with offers of sponsored parties, and birthday parties at secluded spots.
Another disconcerting feature on Indian campuses is the discreet involvement of staff and management in perpetuating the drug trade on campuses. The drug trade guarantees handsome ready cash to those helping to build up volumes in this business. Hence the employment of students to lure prospective students. There are many students in private deemed-to-be-universities who cannot afford to pay the exorbitant fees and other related expenses, or trying to match the affluent lifestyles of their better off counterparts, who easily become pawns in the drug trade. Also, there are students who have faced traumatic experiences of various kinds in their childhood like abuse, household challenges, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) and neglect, who are at elevated risk of indulging in drug abuse. Unscrupulous staff members are quick to identify such students and easily entice them into becoming drug peddlers and consumers. Many gullible students also get sexually exploited, which are both complementary and supportive in the sordid drug trade. My experience has taught me that many teaching and non-teaching staff who adopt a friendly approach to students have a design in mind. They tend to be excessively friendly to get the confidence of the students as also to become popular. This is buttressed by giving free coaching after the class hours, inviting students for dinners or private get-togethers, and showing undue favours in internal assessments. Ultimately it all ends up in sexual favours or membership in the drug circuit. These unpleasant happenings are tacitly swept under the carpet by many Managements under the plea of trying to protect the image of the institution and future admissions. Once when I had gone to a University to conduct an anti-drugs program, the Vice Chancellor showed me a whole cupboard full of an assortment of illicit drugs seized from the students. When I queried him about reporting the matter to the Police, his instantaneous response was that he had to safeguard the reputation of the University. He went on to add that a nominal fine is imposed and the matter closed. It is this approach that is emboldening many students to keep indulging in illicit drug abuse.
I was extremely disappointed that the New Education Policy simply ignored the drug problem in our educational institutions. How are we going to ensure that future generations do not fall in the cycle of drug abuse and addiction? The path from casual use to chronic use can be brutally short, hence the importance of drug prevention strategies. Preventing drug use at the inception stage is a fundamental tenet of any anti-drug strategy. Interdiction with drug education programs and community support initiatives can alter the trajectory of young people’s lives by increasing protective measures while reducing risk factors. It should be made mandatory for all educational institutions in the country to screen students at the admission stage for any kind of illicit drug use and thereafter there should be periodic screening as part of routine health care programs. Educational institutions are best placed for ensuring age appropriate care.
The government should therefore make it mandatory that all educational institutions set up an Anti-Drugs Task Force comprising of representatives from local Police, doctors, social workers, advocates, parents, staff and independent observers drawn from central and state government offices. In fact, many educational institutions, managed by forward looking managements, can set up such a task force as a confidence building measure to reassure parents, students and society.
(The writer is Director, Indian Institute of Infrastructure Construction, Kollam and former Director General, National Academy of Customs, Indirect Taxes & Narcotics and School of Multi-Disciplinary School of Economic Intelligence. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)