|After terror, Kashmir faces new menace: Drug addiction|
|'Day is not far when Valley will become heroin capital of India'|
|Early Times Report|
Jammu, July 18: As if the scourge of past 30 years of terrorism in Kashmir was not enough, a new plague is spreading thick and fast across the Valley-drug addiction.
Official figures reveal that past three years have witnessed a jump from 15 percent to a shocking 90 percent of all drug addicts treated at a government hospital in Srinagar.
The de-addiction OPD at Srinagar's Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital witnessed 489 patients from April 2016-March 2017. But from April 2017-April 2018, it witnessed a seven-time increase in the number of patients, at 3,622. From April 2018-March 2019, 5,113 drug addicts visited the OPD. In two months, from April to June 2019, it saw 1,095 patients. The total number of patients treated in the IPD from 2015 to June 2019 is 1,636.
What has, however, set the alarm bells ringing is the massive surge in heroin consumption, particularly among the youth, and experts say heroin intake is becoming the order of the day. Before the onset of militancy in the Valley, the addicts were found to be using organic substances such as cannabis and codeine. That is no more the case.
"Consumption of heroin, it seems, has become a trend among the Kashmiri youth. If the trend goes on, the day is not far when Kashmir will become drug capital of India," a counsellor at the SMHS hospital told Early Times.
According to officials, the past three years since 2016 have seen a quantum jump in the number of drug addicts who consume heroin. Officials blame 'easy availability' of the drug for the increase in number of users.
"In 2016, 15 percent of addicts admitted centre were heroin addicts," Dr Yasir Rather who is in-charge of De-addiction Centre run by the government at SMHS hospital in Srinagar, told a Delhi-based web portal.
Dr Rather said the number of cases reported at the SMHS hospital is just a "tip of the iceberg" of the larger simmering crisis in Kashmir. Most of the drug abuse cases, he said, go unreported because the victims don't report for treatment due to fears of social stigma.
Notably, till 2007, there was hardly any drug de-addiction centre or facility for treatment of addicts in Kashmir, because the number of drug abusers was too little. At the moment, however, the scene is so alarming that the government's newly launched drug de-addiction policy says "the menace of drug addiction is widely spread, fast-rising and is quickly taking the form of an epidemic".
In 2007, Dr Muzaffar Khan, the incharge of the drug de-addiction centre at Police Control Room (PCR), Srinagar, facilitated by the two top police officers in Kashmir, conducted three workshops in south Kashmir and Srinagar to check the situation.
"We saw just few people who were affected with drug abuse," said Dr Khan, who has spent more than 12 years at the rehabilitation centre at PCR, treating thousands of drug addicts.
It was then that the team decided that there should be some facility for the addicts in Kashmir and a three-bed rehabilitation centre was started at the PCR by the J&K Police. The centre now has 25 beds. "On the ground, we saw that there were some abusers but very less in number," he said.
At the PCR de-addiction centre, from 2008 to 2014, nearly 12,069 patients were treated. From 2015 to 2017, the rehabilitation centre treated 5,520 at Out Patients Department (OPD) and 539 at In Patients Department (IPD).
As the problem has seen a steep increase, it saw 2,981 patients at OPD and 454 at IPD in 2018.
Till June 2019, the centre saw 1,301 patients at OPD and 199 at IPD. Besides, the doctors said more than 123 patients were on the waiting list.
"The numbers are so huge that we are unable to cater to the rush," said Dr Khan, adding that these were only those people who had sought help.
The drug de-addiction centre at PCR is soon shifting to Old Srinagar's Eidgah, with a 50-bed capacity to accommodate more addicts.