It is not uncommon to catch a youth between ages 15 and 25 consuming drugs. While some are introduced to drugs at parties, others experiment out of sheer curiosity and get trapped into the deadly world of addiction. Many organisations have joined hands to fight against the demand and supply of drugs in the state. Tomorrow, June 26 as we observe the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, NT NETWORK digs deeper into the drug scene in Goa and suggests ways to help people come out of the messy world of addiction
SHERAS FERNANDES| NT NETWORK
Substance abuse, which was largely associated with adults, has now trickled down to teenagers with a growing number of school children and college going students getting addicted to various narcotics in Goa. It is a serious public health problem that affects almost every community and family in some way or the other.
It starts with sniffing inhalants and then leads to injecting drugs. This is where intervention is required to curb things from going out of control. The worst affected are the youngsters who in a bid to imitate adults start taking drugs and get addicted sooner. Teenagers deal with many personality development issues like identity, independence, peer pressure, risk taking behaviour, to try something new just for excitement, aggressiveness, urge to imitate the role models. And if there is a genetic vulnerability and unfavourable home and social conditions then it is very likely they would indulge in drug abuse. Adult drug abusers on the other hand may have excelled at tried and tested methods; they are knowledgeable about the nitty-gritty of legal problems associated with drugs and addiction and so are careful not to get caught.
Several NGOs and other community workers have been fighting to end the drug menace in the state. The NGO Positive People, started in 1992 is now fighting against substance abuse with regards to injecting drug users (IDU) through various community oriented services. The staff members of the Positive People North Drop-in Centre at Calangute have been helping addicts who want to quit drugs and live a normal life. Positive People is the only NGO in Goa with an accreditation certificate as an Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) Centre from National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers to supply OST to addicts who want to quit drugs. The NGO has also implemented a project for the prevention of HIV among people who inject drugs (PWIDs) since 2005. Harm reduction which include NSEP (Needle Syringe Exchange Programme) and OST are the main components of this project.
OST prevents HIV and reduces any other harm associated with drug use, especially when combined with psychosocial interventions. OST stabilises clients physically and psychologically which improves their ability to think coherently and makes them amenable to other lifestyle modifications necessary to achieve complete recovery and reintegration into the society. As a step to prevent the spread of HIV through use of unsafe needles, clean syringes and needles are distributed to the users through the project and the used needles are collected to prevent their reuse.
Testimonies about drug addiction
“I started taking drugs at the age of 12 under peer pressure. Little did I know that I would be so dependent on drugs that I would do anything for it! I am 18 years old and have tried almost every drug including cocaine, snake bite, crack, charas, ecstasy, LSD, brown sugar, meow meow among others. I have often tried to quit but peer pressure keeps pulling me back into. I was at a de-addiction centre in Belagavi for eight months but after I came back to my village in Goa I got back into the habit. Though I want to quit drugs for good the craving at times overpowers my self control.”
Suraj (name changed)
“I started taking drugs at the age of 14 when few of my friends forced me to try it. Thereon, I tried almost every drug until I got addicted. My wife and children know that I consume drugs. Although I have tried to quit drugs I have always failed. After I stop the consumption for a few days the craving and withdrawal symptoms begin. After several failed attempts I have made up my mind to give up drugs.”
Shayam (name changed)
“I got into drugs at the age of 12 when I first tried to get high using a silver foil. By the time I turned 20 I had tried almost every drug due to peer pressure. Today, I am 24 and I cannot stay without consuming drugs. By the time I realised the harm drugs was doing to my body it was too late. The last time I tried to get out of the drug scene the withdrawal symptoms got out of control. Till date I have had three relapses.”
Ankur (name changed)
“I am from a village in rural India. I ran away from home with my boyfriend who got me into drugs and pushed me into prostitution. I worked as a bar dancer and a sex worker for many years. I have a child who is presently studying in Nasik. I got to know about my HIV status when the place I was working conducted blood test. When they came to know that I am HIV positive I lost my job. I then came to Goa in search of employment but again got into drugs. I don’t know the names of the drugs as I used almost any drug that made me feel pleasurable and nice. I am on OST provided by Positive People and I hope that I will be able to come out of the drug scene.”
Komal (name changed)
Reasons for drug addiction
In Goa, substance abuse is on the rise and more and more students and youth have started experimenting with drugs. “Ground experience suggest that it is not just a vice for teenagers, but allegedly also a means to earn quick bucks. Instances of drug being done by teenagers who come from educated families have been noticed in the recent past. What is more worrying is there’s a marked decrease in the age of debut of drug use,” says founder and CEO, Human Touch, Peter Borges. A youth led organisation engaging youth to address HIV and substance abuse in Goa.
Of the many that become addicts in the long run start taking drugs at a young age. “Unstable home environment, often due to drug abuse or mental illness of the parent, inadequate supervision over adolescent’s activities, use of drugs by friends/peers, poor achievement in academics and availability of drugs in the community, peer group or home are factors that lead to addiction,” says program manager, Positive People North Injecting Drug Users (IDU), Ganpatrao Dessai.
Lack of parental affection in childhood and fearful negative communication creating emotional insecurity in teenagers and youth may push them into consuming drugs. “Emotional pain and insecurity cannot be explained but drugs tend to numb the body, mind and emotions up to the time there is the effect of drugs. Repeated drugs consumption leads to addiction. There are genetic reasons such as those children of alcoholic parents are predisposed to taking up drugs. Compulsive behaviour pattern of parents and dysfunctional families is another cause for their teenagers and youth taking to drugs,” says director, Asha Counselling Centre, Mapusa, Rui Da Gama. Elaborating if adolescence situation such as peer pressure is often the cause of such unproductive activities he adds: “Parental burden and dispute in marital relationships lead teenagers and youth to consume drugs in order to overcome dissatisfaction, depression and mental stress. The burden of studies and compulsive education systems to compete in ranking, can also lead youth to drugs.”
Senior psychiatrist, District Hospital, Mapusa, Shaheen Saiyed believes that parental inattention or drug abuse in family, abusive family environment and unrealistic expectations of parents can contribute. Study pressure alone may not necessarily lead to drug consumption. “Drug abuse is a biopsychosocial disorder caused by multiple factors,” she says.
Common substances/drugs abused
Some of the most commonly used substances are marijuana (weed/grass/charas/cannabis) while in older teens one can also see addiction to opioids (hash/ brown sugar/heroin) and cocaine. Sometimes psychistimulants like methamphetamine are also used. Tobacco is the gateway drug for all this. However, cigarettes smoking and alcohol is also part of substance abuse.
Sabina (name changed), originally from Mumbai came to Goa as a tourist around 14 years back. Like all other tourists she wanted to have fun with her friends. She started with sniffing drugs and went on to injecting drugs. At the time when she came to Goa she says that drugs were easily available and she was pulled into the drug scene by one of her friend. “It is not difficult to get drugs in the market. There are dealers and suppliers who are ready to give drugs and once you are addicted it is not easy to come out of it. I started with ketamine and now I am addicted to heroin. I find it very difficult to stay without injecting drugs,” says Sabina.
Common symptoms that parents/family members should look out for
The symptoms of substance abuse are easily noticeable from behaviour, sleeplessness, irritability, no appetite, stealing to buy drugs, numbness of mind, unable to work, etc. “Substance abuse is living a depressive life with no hope, future, belief in God and the living. It is living a life of mental obsession and sort of evil possession,” says Rui. Other signs to look out for are frequent lying, unexpected expenditure, money demands, late night outings, sudden change in behaviour, poor self care, neglecting food, avoiding eye contact, sleep disturbance, mostly want to be alone, avoiding family gatherings and specific symptoms after drug use like withdrawals, hallucinations, depressed mood.
Parents have to make it a point to know their child’s circle of friends well, and to look out for signs of drug use right from the early teens. “They need to be tactful, it does not help to constantly spy on, or nag the child, to take an authoritative approach. The important thing is to be open and friendly. The younger we are able to identify a drug user, the more willing he will be to quit the habit,” says Peter.
The impact of drug abuse and dependence can be far-reaching, affecting almost every organ in the human body. Drug use weakens the immune system, increasing susceptibility to infections. “It causes cardiovascular conditions ranging from abnormal heart rate to heart attacks. Further, injecting drugs also lead to collapsed veins and infections of the blood vessels and heart valves,” says Peter. He further adds that more deaths, illnesses and disabilities stem from substance abuse than from any other preventable health condition. “Today, one in four deaths is attributable to illicit drug use. People who live with substance dependence have a higher risk of all bad outcomes including unintentional injuries, accidents, risk of domestic violence, medical problems, and death,” he says.
Drug addiction has all negative with no positive but unfortunately drug users don’t understand this. “It affects physical, emotional and psychological health, academic and social- occupational impairment, financial loss and most importantly dysfunctional family life,” says Shaheen.
How to quit drugs
Saying ‘no’ and not taking drugs, when most people around you are taking them can be very hard. But sometimes the easiest way to get out of that situation is to tell the truth, to simply say ‘no’. When you make excuses, it can often create an opportunity for people to try and convince you by adding extra pressure. Say ‘no’ – having the strength to say ‘no’ may be hard, however, it also feels good to stick with what you believe in. Peter says: “Hanging out with people who share similar interests may help to avoid a situation where you feel pressured into doing things you don’t want to do. You usually choose your peers, so if your peer group is pressurising you and you want to avoid that pressure, then it might be an option to change peer group.”
Early identification and treatment improves the long term prognosis. “Drug addiction is treatable and one can lead a normal life. It is a long term treatment with medications, counselling and rehabilitation to come back to pre-illness level,” says Shaheen.
The way forward
It is crucial to empower young people with necessary skills in resisting addiction. “Educational institutions should make drug education as a part of their teaching like sexuality and physical education and recruit and train certified counsellors as part of their staff to help students deal with educational stress and problems like low self-esteem, lack of confidence, etc,” says Peter. The first step towards a strong bond between children and teachers is listening with empathy and care. There is need to create a positive school culture that supports the active participation of students.
“Fighting drug abuse in the state should be a shared responsibility of all. No amount of denial or ignorance is going to help find any solution to the problem, unless there is any will to fight against it. The problem is very much real and everyone has a role to play. Also, drug abuse is not just a problem but a bigger issue and just talks will not be able to change the facts that are staggering. Instead, efforts, debates should be held for finding a solution,” says Peter.
It is important to empower young people with necessary skills in resisting addiction. Further, parents should be able to detect early signs of depression and erratic behaviour in their children. They should spend even a small amount of time each day giving their child complete attention. They should set clear rules for behaviour, focusing on what needs to be done. When rules are broken, they should stay calm, making sure there are clear and reasonable consequences.
Lastly if drugs have to be eradicated from Goa the law enforcers have to track the drug suppliers. “It is the supplier who has to be caught first. If a drug peddler or user is punished for his offence the supplier will create new peddlers who will carry forward his trade of drug sale in the market. Hence, if the suppliers are caught and punished then the supply of drugs will reduce which will ultimately reduce the demand in the long run,” says Ganpatrao.