First News
Volume:7, Number:36
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COVER STORY
THIS WEEK

Silent Scourge

| Khondoker Tazuddin |

Because of the popularity of Shisha among young tobacco consumers, the number of Shisha Bars has increased rapidly in the city within a short time

Drug abuse is alarmingly rising in Bangladesh, and the young generation is getting entangled in its web. Currently, Bangladesh has over 7 million drug abusers, according to a report by intelligence agencies and most of them are young and educated. While male drug addicts are the visible face of this issue, many female addicts are suffering behind the scene.

Students are the target customers of the drug traders. Once hooked, the users cannot go on for a day without taking drugs. Long-term drug abuse lowers their ability to get education and interferes with their school and college attendance. Many of them end up dropping out and get involved in petty crimes to support their drug habit. Many young people first attempt drug because of peer pressure, or out of sheer curiosity. However, the first attempt usually unlocks the door to addiction, because their level of drug abuse just keeps escalating with time. Along with men, women are becoming victims of drug abuse at an alarming rate nowadays.The easy access to drugs is making the problem difficult to control.

In recent times, Yaba has gained immense popularity among the users and has become a "fashionable" drug. Yaba is being smuggled across our borders every day, but the authorities are not being able to detect and confiscate most of it. There are allegations that some unscrupulous members of the law enforcement agencies, politicians and officials of various organizations are directly and indirectly contributing to the countrywide spread of Yaba pills. Not only the city youth from financially affluent backgrounds, but rural youth from poor families are also becoming addicted to this pill. Cough syrup Phensydil still remains very popular among the masses because of its low price and easy availability.

“Trendy” Shisha

Use of Hookah has been popular in the subcontinent for hundreds of years. Although initially developed for the elite, it gradually spread out to other classes. The rural people used to have Hookah in their leisure time. With the change of time, use of hookah went down, but it is having a rebirth in the urban areas in recent times under a new name- “Shisha”. This “trendy” and “fashionable” form of tobacco consumption is so popular among the city youth that a number of Shisha Bars have sprung up in Dhaka city within a short time.

The Shisha bars, also known as Shisha lounges, provide a private and cozy atmosphere to its customers. Usually, 4-5 young people share a hookah. Under the hazy smoke of tobacco, the water pipe keeps passing hands. There is a common belief that shisha is less harmful than cigarette. However, researchers found that one session of Shisha consumption is equivalent to smoking 68 cigarettes. The smoke produced by a hookah contains high levels of toxic substances, including carbon monoxide, cancer-causing chemicals.It is also responsible for cardiovascular diseases. Due to the mode of smoking including frequency of puffing, and long smoking session, hookah smokers may absorb a higher concentration of toxic elements than smokers of cigarettes. Department of Narcotics Control (DNC) sources said, various types of fruit flavors are mixed with the ingredients of Shisha, which masks the narcotic contents. Since it is not enlisted as a narcotic substance, the authorities cannot take any action against the users. At present, over 150 Shisha lounges are in business in the capital. Many restaurants in the Gulshan, Banani, Dhanmondi, Mohammadpur, Baily Road and Uttara have separate Shisha lounges, always packed with young people. The cost for per session is BDT400-500. Under the veil of Shisha lounge, many of these businesses are allegedly involved in full-blown drug trade.

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According to the Narcotics Control Act 1990, it is the government's responsibility to ensure treatment for the drug addicts completely free of cost. According to DNC, 69 licensed treatment and rehabilitation centers are available in 20 districts across the country. While there are a few rehabilitation centers for men, not a single government facility is available to women addicts. On April 12, 2014, Dhaka Ahsania Mission started the first treatment and rehabilitation center for women drug addicts. So far, 68 drug-addict women have received treatment from this rehab and returned home. Fourteen others are still undergoing treatment. Most of their case studies show that they started taking drugs due to peer pressure. Alongside, failure in marriage or romantic relationship, family dispute, depression, parental divorce, lack of ethical education, etc., also influence many to take drugs.

Target Customers

Students of many renowned English medium schools and private universities are becoming the main target of the drug traders. Although most of them start taking drugs out of curiosity, they eventually become addicted to it. To finance their habit, many of them become involved in the drug business as small dealers and carriers. In recent years, a number of university students have been arrested by the law enforcement agencies for their involvement in the drug trade.

According to sources, students from elite English medium schools such as Green Harald, St Josef, Oxford International, etc., are involved in the use and selling of drugs. In some of the renowned English medium schools, the addicts have their drug circles the way average students have study circles. Since the students of English medium schools and private universities are usually from financially affluent families, the drug traders treat them as their target customers. Many of these underage children carry large sums of cash with them and spend it on drugs. Yaba addiction is exceptionally high among young students. The Yaba traders advertise the pills in a way that appeals to young, impressionable minds. “Yaba makes you slim,” “It is a sexual performance enhancer”. “It helps you study better.” These are some of the arguments used by the drug dealers. Just like cigarette addiction, Yaba users start with free Yaba pills supplied by their peers. After developing the addiction, they spend a huge amount of money every day to keep feeding their addiction.

The drug dealers scout the clubs, restaurants, and educational institutions in the posh areas to reel in potential customers. The law enforcement agencies conducted many raids and arrested a number of drug dealers in recent years, but the network is just too big to be diminished. Yaba pills are especially hard to confiscate because of their small size. With the rising demand and ease of access, Yaba is now a countrywide problem. According to the law enforcement agencies, over 15,000 Yaba traders are active in Dhaka city alone. Over 200 drug dealers are working in every ward of the capital, according to the sources of a number of detective agencies.

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Usually, children, who get too much pocket money from their parents, are the ones more likely to be drug addicts. However, there is a growing demand for drugs among many well-educated professionals such as doctors, engineers, bankers, etc. There are some drug clubs in the posh areas of the capital where wayward wealthy youths can take drugs at any given time of a day. With the change of time, new and more potent drugs are entering the market. In the early 80’s, the law enforcement agencies managed to control the heroin epidemic through strict measures. However, by the end of the eighties, other narcotic substances and alcohols completely took over the market. While Phensedyl was the most demanded substance in the late eighties, by the late nineties yaba pill started to make its mark. Today, Yaba is a nationwide problem, as most of the drug users are addicted to yaba. In the drug rehabilitation centers, the number of Yaba addicts is much higher than heroin or Phensidyl addicts.

Booming Drug Trade

The borders of Bangladesh have become one of the most crowded drug trafficking zones in the world. A total of 32 different types of narcotic substances are entering Bangladesh from the neighboring countries India and Myanmar. Yaba pills are currently dominating the smuggling scene. Millions of Yaba pills are being seized each year, but the police believe that is only about 10 percent of what is being smuggled into the country.

According to the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC), the use of Yaba has increased by 177 times in the last seven years. The demand for Yaba is so high among the youth that the trafficking of other popular narcotics such as phensidyl, heroin, pathodin, and opium has decreased over the years. However, the trafficking indicator for marijuana is more or less in the same position as before. The trafficking indicator is based on the local use of certain drugs. By analyzing the overall amount and types of drugs confiscated by various law enforcement agencies from 2008 to 2016, the aforementioned data were found. On the occasion of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking 2016, the Department of Narcotics Control prepared annual reports of various law enforcement agencies including Police, Rab, and BGB. According to the report, if Yaba confiscation rate remains the same as the first four months of 2016 throughout the year, the Yaba consumption rate will be doubled percent in 2017.

Female Drug Addict Number on the Rise

For the last couple of years, the number of female drug addicts has been increasing at an alarming rate. The scenario is especially grim in the capital, as about 20 percent of the city’s drug addicts are women. The numbers of female drug kingpins and drug mules are increasing just as much as the female drug users. Usually, women from poor and lowincome families are involved in the selling of Phensidyl, heroin and other relatively cheap narcotic substances. A number of educated city woman are becoming involved in the use and trade of Yaba pills. Many beautiful women from the entertainment industry and students of colleges and universities are getting deep into the vortex of drug business without realizing the consequences.

According to a survey conducted by International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh (Icddr, B), 79.4 percent of the drug users are male and 20.6 percent are female. It means one-fifth of the overall drug users are women. According to a United Nations survey report, some 6.5 million people in Bangladesh are drug addicts. Of them, 13 percent are female and the remaining 87 percent are male. As per these estimates, at least 1.3 million Bangladeshi women are taking some kind of drugs. A DNC survey found the number of drug addicts in the country is around 4 million. It estimated that the number would be somewhere around 400,000. However, only a small section of these female drug abusers ever seek treatment in the rehabilitation centers. The social stigma attached to a female drug user is much more severe than the male users, which refrains them from seeking help.

Experts said that about 80 percent of the female drug addicts were introduced to drugs by their friends. Reasons determined through research include curiosity and excitement about drugs, depression, parental divorce, failure in romantic relationship or marriage, the influence of friends, despair and frustration for continuous failure at work, and economic insolvency, etc. While the male drug addicts are regularly being taken to the rehab centers by their families, the situation is completely different for women. In most cases, the families of female drug addicts try their best to hide the problem to avoid social embarrassment. As a result, many female drug addicts do not get the treatment they need, which causes a number of physical and mental problems for them in the course of time. Most alarmingly, an untreated addict is always at high risk of relapse. Many of the female addicts who do not receive treatment often end up stealing from their families to fund their costly habit.

Ahsania Mission’s Female Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre’s program officer, Zahid Iqbal, said, “ There is a common belief that the female drug addicts sleep around with men for money, which is not necessarily true in many cases. However, the social attitude to a female addict can harm her future prospects, especially marriage. As a result, many female addicts and their families refrain from ever seeking help.”

Sources said that there are government- run rehabilitation centers in Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi, and Khulna. Alongside, the prison hospitals in Comilla, Jessore, and Rajshahi have separate rehabilitation centers. However, there is no government rehabilitation center for women addicts, neither is there any seats allotted for them anywhere. In 2014, Ahsania Mission established a Female Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre in the Mohammadpur area of the capital. Following that, private rehabs including Apon Mukti, Prottoy and Light House also opened special wings for women addicts.

According to DNC sources, a total of 3,446 male patients and only 3 female patients were admitted to the government-run rehabilitation centers in 2016. In the same year, 8792 men and only 62 women received primary treatment from the outdoor department of the government-run rehabs. In 2013, not a single woman sought treatment for addiction in contrast to 11,565 male addicts. On the other hand, 13,452 male addicts in 2016, and 17,241 in 2013 were admitted to the licensed private rehabs. The admission of female addicts was very low in these private facilities as well.

Impact of Drug Addiction

Drug addiction affects not only the individual, but also those closest to them, and society as a whole. It attributes to crime, disease, accidents, domestic violence, abuse, job loss, etc. Considering the fact that majority of the drug users are young, the severity of the situation gets more intense. We have seen a surge in horrific crimes committed by youths in recent years, and many of those crimes were motivated and influenced by drug use. The sensational parenticide committed by teenager Oishy sent a shockwave throughout the country. Drug is also a driving factor behind the rise of teenage gangs throughout the capital. The drug-addict youths are wasting their talent, potential, and creativity, and becoming burdens to their families and society alike. Social analysts and guardians are blaming the erosion of social and moral values, the disparity between education and job prospects, and political culture of our country as the main contributing factors behind this situation. However, can the parents and educational institutes shake off their responsibilities so easily?

The health impacts of drug abuse are quite severe as well. Drug addiction deteriorates an individual’s physical and mental well-being. Their health deteriorates rapidly and the immune system gets completely destroyed. Even regular flu and cold can wreak havoc on an addict's body because the antibiotics do not work on them. The risk of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and sexually transmitted diseases is very high among the addicts as well. They lose their drive to succeed. Many times, an addict ends up losing their jobs and their families. The most common drugs used in Bangladesh are stimulants. The young users are ignorant about the variation of drugs. Some of them cannot tell the difference between stimulants and marijuana. They are using a wide range of drugs including heroin, cocaine, morphine, pethidine, marijuana, phensidyl, amphetamine, etc. In the beginning, they take it as an adventure but eventually develop a strong dependency on these drugs. The students struggle with their studies and perform poorly in their examinations. Poor academic result is highly condemned by the parents and teachers alike in our country, and in most cases, they do not bother to investigate why these young people are struggling. The lack of understanding and empathy from the close ones further pushes the youngsters towards the web of drugs. The drug traders have hired promoters who seek out impressionable youngsters and introduce them to the drugs. Once addicted, a user cannot carry on without the drug of their choice, and becomes desperate to gather money in any way possible. Many criminals utilize this desperation and involve these troubled youngsters in petty crimes. From small crimes, they often turn to serious, often horrific crimes.

Introduction to drug often starts innocently, by sharing a cigarette with a trusted friend. However, many of these smokers later try out and become addicted to drugs. A research has found that of the cigarette smokers, almost 98 percent have experimented with drugs, and 44 percent of them are involved in anti-social activities. Along with young adults, teenagers are becoming more involved on the drug scene, much to the horror of concerned parents. The easy access of Yaba and many myths surrounding its effects have made it the most popular drug among youngsters. While heroin is known as the “king” of drugs among the local users, Yaba is known as the “queen”. An alarming number of young girls, who never dared to try any other drug, are now regularly taking Yaba pill because it helps them lose weight. Experts claim that the Yaba users usually graduate to other types of drugs eventually. According to doctors, the harmful physical effects of Yaba are just as bad as heroin. Long term Yaba use destroys the blood carrying vessels in the brain and can cause stroke. Yaba contains a very potent form of caffeine that can eventually cause mental imbalance.

According to police, many more teens have been arrested for using drugs in the last two to three years than ever before. Most of the serious crimes including murder, hijacking, extortion, etc., have a connection with drug addiction. The organized crime rings and drug traders are taking advantage of the drug dependency of the addicts and using them as pawns. Icddr,b sources said that a drug user daily spends an average of BDT130 on drugs. However, the detective department’s (DB) data indicates that the average daily spending on drug is around BDT700. In a developing country like Bangladesh, the drug users waste BDT140 billion a year on drugs. Along with the loss of money, the drug addicts are also wreaking havoc on their families. We are frequently coming across reports of drug addicts killing or maiming their own family members. Various sources suggest that over 5,000 female students in various renowned educational institutions in Dhaka are addicted to drugs. A survey conducted by DNC found that almost 10 percent young and adult women in the country are drug addicts, and 3 percent of them are housewives. International organizations like the United Nations and World Health Organization (WHO) are alarmed by the present proportion of addicts.

According to sources at different healthcare facilities, nowadays nearly 10 percent of outpatients are visiting the country's hospitals with cases of addiction-related complications involving heroin, marijuana, and Phensedyl. The trend of drug consumption is higher amongst youths and teenagers, their age spanning between 15 and 30 years. They come from all strata of the society. The unsupervised access to technology is one of the main reasons behind the moral erosion of the young. Many parents have no idea about what kind of media is influencing their children. Many teenagers watch inappropriate pornographic contents on a regular basis. These age-inappropriate contents not only destroy the natural innocence of their young minds, but also attract them to forbidden things such as drugs and alcohol. Parents have to be more involved in their children’s lives not only to monitor what they do but also to talk to them about issues that they should know.

A United States report said, “Only parents can save their children from the grip of narcotic addiction. So, parents have to be more aware and involved. A strong family bond can prevent a young man or woman from taking a step in the wrong direction. With proper value and attention from their parents, children will grow up with a stronger moral compass and not be so vulnerable to the curse of drug addiction.”

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