Sikkim Drug abuse & Youth: Where are the youth leading?

Sikkim, comparatively among the smaller states in the Indian Union and among sparsely populated too, has been facing an unusual social challenge for the past few decades in the form of drug addiction and abuses prevalent particularly in  youth. While many points out to the large ratio of unemployment among its working age groups as the catalyst for such a dramatic rise in drug related issues in the state yet no concrete or satisfactory explanations have been discovered so far.  

Drug busts and arrests are reported almost every day from different parts of the state, sometimes whose worth exceeds lakhs in Rupees. It becomes astonishing to note that among the reported cases of drug abuses, consumption, sale, smuggling or trafficking many of the drug users or drug traffickers belongs to a much younger age groups and largely from economically weaker backgrounds or from broken family or families grappling with its internal family related issues. These in turn are creating other important social issues such as theft, robbery, gang conflicts, suicides, dropouts from schools and colleges to name a few. 

As the future of any growing state depends on its youthful citizenry, the growing challenge of drug abuses and trafficking in the state of Sikkim directly or indirectly questions the future of the state and its aspiration to be among the highly developed, literate and among the economically stronger states while also raises a very important question ‘What has Sikkim been doing to curb drug menace in the state?’ 

Drug abuse in the simplest words meaning ‘excessive usage of drugs, particularly psychoactive ones’ for purposes other than those for which they are meant to be used, drugs meaning medicines.

According to the report published on June 24, 2021, by the United Nations, Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), around 275 million people used drugs worldwide in 2020, while over thirty-six million people suffered from drug use disorders. Most countries reported a rise in the use of cannabis during the pandemic and as per surveys of health professionals across 77 countries, 42 percent asserted that cannabis use had increased while the rise in the nonmedical use of pharmaceutical drugs was also observed at that same period.  The report runs parallel with the scenario in Sikkim as most of the cases related to drug abuse revolves around cannabis along with rampant misuse of prescription drugs like cough syrups, Spasmo Proxyvon and Nitrosun tablets. Cannabis because it can be grown easily at home and is thought to be a medicine for the cattle in rural areas. 

Usually drugs are taken by swallowing, inhaling or injecting which then finds their way into the bloodstream and through it, they move to the brain and different parts of the body. Drugs according to their users are said to intensify or dull the senses, change how alert or sleepy people feel, sometimes decrease physical pain and most importantly make the user feel pleasure, euphoria or in the words of the drug users they make them feel ‘High’.  But the feeling decreases with time as the user continues to use it, and this is how an individual fall into addiction. This in turn results in many health problems mostly mental which at times becomes fatal and sometimes the reason for someone’s death. 

Many steps and legislations were taken up by Sikkim in order to control drug addiction, particularly among its youth. Sikkim Anti-Drugs Act of 2006 simply called SADA is one of them that was enacted as Sikkim’s drug problem started to turn worse in the early 2000s. SADA totally criminalized illicit drug use in Sikkim and penalized those found guilty. 

However, initially it did not have the provisions of imprisonment and the penalty was limited to a certain amount, which turned to be the weakness of the Act. It was amended in 2011 and provisions of stricter punishments and increased fines were added to it. 

The criminalization of the illicit drug use had already drawn the attention of the civil society, while the amendment of SADA in 2011 prompted the debate on whether criminalization was a correct approach to tackle such sensitive issue. This meant that certain changes were to be brought in the Act and SADA was again amended in the year 2017 where the distinction between ‘Peddlers’ and ‘Consumers’ were made. According to the amendment, an individual with small quantity of drug was categorized as ‘consumers’ while those caught with larger quantities were categorized as ‘peddlers’ and meant harsher punishment for peddlers along with changed approach in dealing with both of them. The consumers were now subject to psychiatric evaluation along with detoxification and rehabilitation, if necessary.

Along the way, Sikkim dramatically changed the perspective and the approach it took to tackle drug menace in the state amidst growing advocacy for decriminalizing illicit drug use. 

It was in the year 2018 that SADA was again amended, which decriminalized illicit drug use and laid elaborate provisions for detoxification and rehabilitation within the will of the offender. This meant that the offenders now had access to healthcare services and entitled to psychiatric evaluation and rehabilitation. The approach was seen as a noble step and ahead of many states within the country. 

The state government of Sikkim within these many years also has laid many state-run schemes in addition to SADA to tackle with drug related issues among its citizens. This includes the State Action Plan for Drug Demand Reduction (SAPDDR) and Sikkim Against Addiction Towards a Healthy India (SAATHI) initiative. 

The approaches of the state government and civil society may have helped to bring down the cases of illicit drug use however, the issues are still prevalent among its youth with more and more varieties of drugs now available in the market along with improved and sophisticated methods to obtain it which explains the growing number of cases recently. 

In a recent interview with Sikkim Chronicle, KC Nima, Founder of Freedom Facility a rehabilitation center for the drug addicts, on being asked about the situation of drug related issues in Sikkim said that “although police has been arresting  drug peddlers on a daily basis and punishing them while at the same time we too are working on our part, I do not think we are quite able to curb it completely”.  “The statistics has not gone down, rather it has climbed up” he added. 

KC Nima  who himself accepted of being the drug abuser once in his life said that “I started using drug along with four of my friends as an experiment and pleasure which slowly turned into an addiction, but I landed in a rehabilitation center and was saved, but one of my friend passed away due to addiction”.  On being asked about the possible solutions he said that “I do not think I have the solution, but I can only say that people need to be more compassionate against the drug addicts and not treat them as mad, criminals or animals rather treat them as patients because drug addiction is itself a disease”. “If only an addict is accepted in a society as a patient, given proper guidance and treatment along with time to recover and realize his mistake then and then only I think slowly but steadily the number will go down” he said. 

Chief Minster of Sikkim, Prem Singh  Tamang, addressing  public gathering recently  had expressed concern on the rising drug abuse related cases. He in his address mentioned that the government had been working tirelessly to curb drug addiction in Sikkim, and said that the only solution now seemed rehabilitation of the drug addicts. “We have the capacity to rehabilitate 400 drug addicts at a time which accounts to the rehabilitation of 1200 drug addicts a year while we also are arranging to send our youngsters who unfortunately has been grappling with drug addiction to the different rehabilitation centers outside the state such as in Kolkata, Darjeeling or Siliguri” Stated CM Tamang  

“Although there is an Act in place for drug users and traffickers that lays provisions for harsh punishments but still we are not unable to control it completely” he said “I think the problem lies after the drug addict returns from the rehabilitation centers where we are maybe failing to provide proper opportunities and guidance to them”. “The government with consultation with concerned authorities and stakeholders is making plans to provide job opportunities to the individuals returning from the rehabilitation centers while at the same time as the cost of sending one drug addict to a rehabilitation center amounts to around twenty-five thousand rupees, we too are willing to provide financial assistance to economically weaker families who are willing to send their children who are drug addicts to the rehabilitation centers” he added. 

The rising challenge of drug addiction in such a small state with smaller population and relatively younger citizenry has been a matter of concern for decades, as seen by its struggle in recent years. Could it jeopardize the future of the state? if not addressed immediately is the larger question and probably the most haunting one. 

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