A Common Enemy
It’s that time of the year when legislators, bureaucrats, police and concerned citizens talk about the drug menace, thanks to the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, which is observed annually in June. While the central leaders and government officials paint a good picture of the Northeast, underscoring the potential of the region in tourism sector and the vital role it could play as India’s link to Southeast Asian countries through the much-hyped India’s Act East Policy, one serious issue that has failed to garner required attention is substance abuse and rampant illicit drug trafficking. According to a study by the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, in 2019, the Northeast has a high prevalence of drug use, with Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Manipur among the top states in terms of percentage of population affected by drug use disorders. The region’s proximity with the world’s second largest opium producing country and porous unmanned international borders have been facilitating uncontrolled flow of contraband items into the region for decades. The proposed economic corridor to connect India with the Asia-Pacific region could hamper the Northeast’s fight against drug abuse and trafficking. Considering this peril, the Central and state governments can’t afford to ignore this pressing matter that has the potential to harm the region beyond repair.
While the rise in seizure of banned substances indicates that the north-eastern states have upped its ante against the growing illicit drugs menace, which is encouraging, but much more needs to be done in controlling supply. To effectively tackle the well-coordinated narcotics trafficking, inter-state intelligence network should be enhanced. The central and state drug law enforcement agencies also should coordinate and work as one unit to track down drugs traffickers, who are using modern technology to avoid being seized. Community involvement through sharing of information about suspicious activities to police will also immensely help in fighting the menace.
One important aspect that is often overlooked while tackling drug abuse issue is the support that substance addicts need to lead a normal life. A study has revealed that only one in four persons suffering from dependence on illicit drugs ever received any treatment, and one in 20 persons received in-patient treatment in India, during 2018. This hints at the need to scale up treatment services for people affected by substance use disorders. Social stigma and discrimination against drug addicts should be eradicated; instead, they should be supported and encouraged to seek help. Communities, churches, civil society organisations, schools and families also should play its part in protecting the young people from illicit substances. It’s a fight against a common enemy.