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Heroin Epidemic in J&K

The alarming surge of heroin abuse in Jammu and Kashmir has prompted medical professionals to express urgent concerns about the escalating opioid epidemic.

By Ajaz Rashid

The escalating prevalence of opioid use in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is causing growing concern among medical professionals, particularly as heroin emerges as the most widely abused drug, according to reports from doctors in the region.

Dr. Aadil, a Medical Officer at the Addiction Treatment Facility (ATF) in District Hospital Shopian, has disclosed that an increasing number of individuals seeking treatment exhibit opioid dependency, with heroin being the predominant substance abused in Jammu and Kashmir. He emphasizes that approximately 90-95 percent of patients visiting the facility for treatment are grappling with opioid addiction, underscoring the alarming scale of the issue across various districts.

Similar concerns have been voiced by a psychiatrist at GMC Anantnag, who notes that 90 percent of drug abusers seeking assistance at the ATF facility in the district specifically grapple with heroin addiction. Furthermore, around 65 percent of these heroin users engage in Intravenous Drug Abuse (IVDA), exposing them to elevated risks of contracting HIV and hepatitis.

Heroin Epidemic in J&K

One formidable challenge hindering effective intervention is the pervasive social stigma associated with drug abuse, discouraging numerous individuals from seeking treatment. The psychiatrist points out that financial constraints and societal factors contribute to approximately 40 percent of drug abusers discontinuing treatment after their initial visit to ATF.

Medical professionals are stressing the urgent need for heightened vigilance among parents, urging comprehensive support for their children and emphasizing the importance of raising awareness about the perils of drug abuse.

In a deviation from the national trend, doctors highlight that in Jammu and Kashmir, opioids, particularly heroin, surpass alcohol as the substance of choice for individuals grappling with mental health issues. The repercussions of opioid abuse include an elevated risk of overdose, leading to severe health complications such as liver damage, sudden heart attacks, kidney damage, and mental health disorders.

Revelations from medical practitioners indicate that heroin, a prevalent opioid, commands a substantial price of Rs 5,000 per gram. Addicts are estimated to spend an average of 90,000 rupees per month to sustain their opioid use, putting them at an increased risk of sudden death, heart attacks, and various health-related complications.

Medical professionals emphasize the importance of recognizing potential signs of opioid use, including alterations in social behavior, isolation from friends and family, changes in hygiene habits, shifts in eating patterns, mood swings, and financial difficulties.

Disturbingly, needle sharing among heroin users has led to a significant number of severe hepatitis C cases, with a looming risk of HIV/AIDS. A recent report by the Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment underscores the gravity of the situation, revealing that over 5 lakh addicts in Jammu and Kashmir use opioids, with 95,000 falling within the 10-17 age group.

The report offers a detailed breakdown of drug abuse statistics, encompassing various substances among different age groups. Among minor drug abusers, 8,000 are using cannabis, 95,000 opioids, 19,000 sedatives, 100 cocaine, 400 amphetamine stimulants, 46,000 inhalants, and 200 hallucinogens.

Notably, a study on drug abuse in the country conducted by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in 2019 underscores that the level of opioid abuse in Jammu and Kashmir is among the highest in the country. The report indicates that 4.9% of the six lakh individuals in J&K abuse opium derivatives, including “doda, phukki, poppy husk, heroin, brown sugar, smack, and pharmaceutical opioids.”

In recent years, the number of individuals seeking treatment for substance addiction in Jammu and Kashmir has surged, according to official data from the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS). The data reveals a significant increase from 2,000 registrations in 2018 to 13,200 registrations in 2021, with more than 90% of those seeking treatment grappling with heroin addiction.

Alarmingly, the rise in substance abuse is not confined to the male population; the number of women at risk of or already in addiction has also seen an upward trajectory. Dr. Rather, associated with the De-Addiction Centre in Srinagar, reports a notable increase in women registering for de-addiction, with heroin being the primary substance of abuse.

J&K police have reported a surge in incidents involving women trafficking drugs, particularly ‘brown sugar,’ poppy straw, cannabis, and, at times, large consignments of heroin. Vinay Kumar, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) in the Anti-Narcotics Task Force (ANTF), notes that incidents of women peddling drugs are prevalent in urban areas, particularly Srinagar and Jammu cities.

“The challenges faced by law enforcement, citing the difficulty of checking vehicles containing females or families at checkpoints due to the absence of female cops and to avoid harassment. Despite these challenges, the police are intensifying intelligence and networks to address the growing involvement of women in drug-related offenses,” Vinay said.

While Jammu and Kashmir formulated its first drug de-addiction policy in 2018, aimed at mainstreaming and destigmatizing de-addiction, progress has been slow. Addiction treatment facilities are being established with assistance from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, but are yet to fully operationalize.

In 2019, the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) highlighted J&K as a state with a high influx and availability of narcotics. The report revealed that J&K ranked third in terms of the seizure of heroin, with major trafficking occurring through the Indo-Pakistan border, mainly in Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir.

However, since 2019, there has been no country-wide estimate of narcotics abuse prevalence. The absence of updated reports raises concerns about the lack of comprehensive data to guide interventions and policy decisions. Despite the formation of the drug de-addiction policy and efforts to address the issue, the absence of recent and comprehensive data on narcotics abuse prevalence underscores the need for renewed attention to this pressing public health crisis in Jammu and Kashmir. (With inputs from KNO)

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