Saturday, October 18, 2014


Addiction has ploughed through generations now, but still remains largely unaddressed

Sikkim has been grappling with substance abuse for a while now, for a very long while. Unfortunately, much remains to be understood about this malaise in Sikkim even though it has already struck very deep roots here. A beginning was made little over a decade ago when recovering addicts and socially responsible few got together to open the State’s first rehabilitation centre for convalescing victims of substance abuse. A few years later, the State Government responded to the crying need for effective laws to deal with the nature of addiction in Sikkim and gave the State the Sikkim Anti-Drugs Act in 2006. This Act, as a special report in this edition details, when it became a law, lost most of its compassion and has become problem in itself. On a brighter note though, the recovering users have become a more organised collectif and make up for societal ennui with their commitment and passion to help others still struggling with chemical dependency. In the absence of any other silver linings, one hopes that their initiatives continue further.
As for the rest of the State, before Sikkim can progress any further with combating drug abuse, it will first have to understand the fundamental and essential questions about drug abuse and addiction, which range from understanding how drugs act on the brain; to identifying and minimizing the role that stress can play in drug use and relapse; to detecting and responding to emerging drug use trends. It should also be understood that addiction is not a “high-society” infliction even though police action might be limited to the economically underprivileged. Take a look around and you can easily spot the nervous stutter of a habituated substance abuser in the most unlikely of places, but before one starts stereotyping addiction, accept it that it is dangerously widespread in Sikkim. A senior politician recently remarked that the Sikkim society has come to a stage where parents are known to buy their teenaged child a ‘quarter’ every evening in hopes that it will keep him off the harder stuff. This definitely is not the way to rehabilitation. So poorly are even literate parents informed on addiction that they fail to understand that the dependence is chemical and requires professional help after a certain stage. They can at best provide the cushion, the support base that a recovering addict requires. They can’t treat it. At least not the way they have been trying to. Deaths due to overdose are no longer rare in Sikkim and now even have a euphemism of their own and this makes the hesitancy among parents and wards to seek professional help even more difficult to understand. Agreed, the society still attaches a stigma to addiction, but there is no escaping such branding by trying to cover-up. Given the rather small society Sikkim moves in, no addiction remains secret for too long so why hide behind the fig-leaf of denial? In fact, denial is something that parents should help the addict overcome. Researchers claim that most addicts remain untreated because they convince themselves that they are not addicted - that they can kick the habit whenever they want. Rarely is this the case. Tantrums and threats don’t work as deaddiction tools. If anything, they aggravate the situation. Only professionals, and now we have some in Sikkim, can help. The Government, on its part, can help by arming the rehabilitation workers with infrastructural support and faith. SADA had these provisions, but it has unfortunately been allowed to become a weapon exclusively deployed by the police instead of being allowed to grow into the tool that was collectively used to save youth, punish peddlers and reclaim a generation. Rehab workers can work out a plan of action to combat both addiction and peddling, but that cannot happen if the policy makers refuse to listen to the people who understand the problem the best. Recovering users need to invited in as consultants to nuance the State’s response to the problem of substance abuse.
Meanwhile, the fight against drug abuse, and it is a fight mind you, is not just about curing addicts, it is also about protecting first-time users from experimenting with it. This cannot be achieved by a stray rally once in a year and a couple of posters and hoardings spread around the State. It needs some more human touch. Rehabilitated addicts and social workers need to constantly interact with the most susceptible section of the society and constantly speak of horrors that follow the initial high of substance abuse. The ugly side of addiction has to be propped up in the form of first-hand narratives often enough to have any impact on a generation reared on images which romanticise the experience. All these measures could still fail and there could be many who end up caught in the dizzy spiral of addiction. For them we need a stable society, a concerned community and of course professionally trained therapists; not a law that makes criminals out of addicts.

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