Heroin seizure brings focus back on Sikkim’s addiction problem

In what the Sikkim Police has termed a major breakthrough, not so much in terms of volumes but the flags it raises for new worries in the substance abuse situation in the state, around 25 gms of heroin was seized by the police at Melli check post on 29 August.

“Although the recovery is not significant in terms of quantity, but it indicates the infiltration of serious hard drugs in the state which is mainly battling the abuse of medical drugs like cough syrups, Spasmoproxyvon, and Nitrazepam10,” comments a press release issued by the SP-South today.

On Monday, Sikkim Police intercepted 22-year-old Manish Tamang at a naka set up in Melli. The youth was ferrying the lethal drugs in a Sumo Taxi coming in from Siliguri. A case under Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances [NDPS] Act, 1985 has been registered against the accused, who, a Sikkim Police press release informs, had also been previously arrested and acquitted in a similar case.

In the present case, the police have stated that all legal formalities are being followed and all possible leads into the nexus are being investigated thoroughly.

Sikkim is known for its peaceful environment, and breathtaking tourist destinations. But within this idyll, drug abuse is rife. Drug busts under the Sikkim Anti-Drugs Act are daily fare but this is probably the first time that a stash of heroin has been caught.

“It’s big news! The first heroin case to be booked in the state,” says KC Nima, Mentor of HOPE foundation, and someone who works closely with recovering addicts.

While the bust may be cause for celebration, Mr Nima cautions that heroin has already found its way into the state.

A couple of phone calls in, and it becomes obvious that this highly addictive substance can be easily sourced in most places in Sikkim.

“It is not the last and I definitely think it’s not the first either. Heroin is an expensive drug. A normal person cannot afford it which makes it exclusive for people in the upper strata of society. And let’s face it rich people have ways to get the drug inside the state,” he says.

Heroin is easily available from many parts of the country. The drug mostly comes from Amritsar from where it is smuggled across the border. Then this drug is sold in smaller quantities to other towns. In Amritsar, heroin costs around Rs 600 for one gram while in Ludhiana it is available from Rs 1,500 to Rs 1,700 per gm. In other states the price may vary from Rs 3,500 to Rs 5,000 per gm, according to a study by the National Narcotics Bureau. In Sikkim, the drug reportedly peddles for between Rs 2,000-3,000 per gram, making the consignment caught yesterday carrying a street value of between Rs. 50,000 to 75,000.

“He would have made some serious money with that load of heroin,” adds Mr Nima.

“It is an early warning to the society that if we fail to combat drug abuse effectively, it will grip it tentacles against the youth and its going to be hard to get out of it,” highlights the press release from the SP-South.

A warning we need to take seriously, as Mr Nima points out: “Rehab centres in the state are ill-equipped to deal with serious drugs users like heroin or coke addicts”.

One line of thinking suggests that since it is an expensive drug its users mostly belong to the higher echelons of society. Anyone familiar with the levels of addiction elsewhere will know that because the drug is much more addictive than anything else in the market, it does not really remain exclusive to the moneyed. Children from underprivileged families in Delhi’s slums have high addiction levels, and because it is an expensive habit, fall prey to all options available to finance the habit.

In Sikkim, recovering heroin addicts from financially better-off families are usually sent to expensive rehabs outside the state. These rehab centres could cost around Rs 60,000 per month, Mr Nima informs. What happens to addicts wanting to rehabilitate but without the means to pay for it remains an unaddressed issue. Because of its highly addictive nature and the quickness with which dependence can develop, rehabilitation is a complicated process for which expert handling is advised to secure even a fighting chance of success.

No data exists on actual number of addicts in Sikkim or the ratio of different substances of abuse among this population.

Anupriya Pradhan, a counselor at STNM Hospital, says, “Out of 100 patients, maybe 7 to 8 per cent are heroin users. The number of such patients is less because the drug is costly but these numbers are consistent.”

“Between chasing the high and avoiding withdrawal, heroin users easily fall into addiction. People become tolerant, requiring higher doses of the drug to achieve the same effect. This not only puts them at risk of death from an overdose, it also leads to a physical dependence on the drug. Without it, regular heroin users descend into the misery of withdrawal, with flu-like symptoms of shaking, sweating, diarrhoea and vomiting. Seeking and using the drug becomes their sole purpose, even if it means losing their job, family or home,” details Mr. Nima.

In many ways, because the proliferation of the gateway drugs is widespread in Sikkim, the news that the hard-drugs are here should not have come as a surprise. It has obviously been around for a while, but now that it has made it to the headlines with the police effort, one hopes that better collaborations are fashioned to address the problem in earnest.