Thursday, August 20, 2015

Push Through the Purple Haze


Sikkim needs to strike wider collaborations to combat drug abuse

June 26, Friday, was the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. The United Nations Secretary-General, in his address for the day, said: “In full compliance with human rights standards and norms, the United Nations advocates a careful re-balancing of the international policy on controlled drugs.  We must consider alternatives to criminalization and incarceration of people who use drugs and focus criminal justice efforts on those involved in supply. We should increase the focus on public health, prevention, treatment and care, as well as on economic, social and cultural strategies”. Accepting that addiction spikes in an environment of easy availability and societal disinterest, it becomes necessary for a state like Sikkim to pay special attention to the UN Secretary-General’s appeal to stop processing addicts as criminals and focus the criminal justice efforts on those involved in supply instead.
This approach becomes especially required since the culture of favouritism so ingrained in Sikkim ensures that the law snares only the underprivileged and the already marginalised, creating an unbalanced crackdown which, even if not too many people are talking about it, is shredding the fabric of society here. And even despite this self-inflicted damage, the problem of drugs continues to grow.
Much remains to be understood about this malaise in Sikkim, and even as the concerned agencies and people at large blunder through the situation, addiction continues to strike ever deeper roots here. Admittedly, the state’s role cannot be limited to apportioning funds for some rehabilitation centres and playing the strict cop. The State Government has shown initiative and drafted a state-specific law to address the nature of substance abuse here, but this first step take back in 2006 ended up remaining the only step, with the civil society engagement which would have ensured that the state agencies stayed the true course in the battle against drugs never materialising. Where a wider collaboration was required to address addiction, Sikkim received only a new law being implemented by the police. When it comes to cops, empathy, unfortunately, is not a necessary virtue and the line between addicts/ victims and peddlers/ suppliers starts blurring fast. For cops, anyone caught with substances of abuse is a criminal, and this approach is not helping. This would not have happened if people’s organisations and recovering users had been involved in the effort. The Sikkim Anti-Drugs Act had envisaged such collaborations, but while the legislative had worked such engagements into the Act, the executive left them out during notification and the police preferred to go it alone when it come to implementation. So, while convictions under SADA are high, neither supply nor the spiral of addiction has been affected.
While peddling might a criminal activity, addiction is a social challenge. The problem of drugs is not a cut & dried, black & white situation and yet extant prejudices can find no compassion even for the victims, and instinctive repulsion and shallow moralising sees people condemn before they have even understood. People have to realise that addicts are not just drug users and that there is more to them than just their addiction. Given how widespread substance abuse has become in Sikkim, the State needs to prioritise counselling and rehabilitation even over police action. More people need to be sent to the rehab than the jails, but it appears that SADA offers such easy convictions that alternatives are not even being considered. Of course, 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 triggers which are catalysing addiction here; to detecting and responding to emerging drug use trends. Understanding addiction will help Sikkim understand victims of substance abuse better and then it will find the faculties to address the problem better.
Unfortunately, so poorly are even literate parents informed about addiction that they fail to understand that the dependence is chemical and requires professional help. Denial is expected in addicts, but there is no excuse for the denial the rest of the State remains in when it comes to recognising that it is failing an entire generation by not responding effectively enough to address the problem of ‘drugs’. Parents who have lost children to drugs and those who are battling addiction in the family need to come together and collaborate on reinforcing Sikkim’s defences against substance abuse. They need to tell more parents that jail, tantrums and threats don’t work as deaddiction tools. If anything, they aggravate the situation. Only professionals can help, and now Sikkim has some in the State and more are willing to devote time and energy for professional training if the government or corporate sponsors can spare the funds for it. As already mentioned several times, Sikkim needs wider collaborations in its fights against drugs, the sooner it joins more hands the less painful the rehabilitation will be...

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