The battle cannot be won top-down, wider collaborations are required
Drug busts form a staple of the diet of newspaper consumers in Sikkim. A substantial drug haul on a chance routine inspection at the check-posts is a routine occurrence.
Prescription drugs continue to be the preferred substances of abuse even though more hardcore “drugs” are also obviously being peddled. The former is in much higher circulation and continues to remain the more pressing concern for Sikkim due to its easy availability and deep percolation among the youth. In fact, because the peddling of these prescription drugs was not covered under the then laws against “drugs”, like the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act, the Sikkim Government framed the Sikkim Anti-Drugs Act in the year 2006.
SADA was envisioned as a law to strengthen the hands of the law enforcement agencies in their effort to curtail the supply and peddling of these substances. Until SADA came about, a peddler could not even be kept locked up overnight since the pre-SADA laws, even on conviction, delivered only a minor fine as punishment… not even a slap on the wrists. All that the confiscation of big hauls at the check-posts succeeded in achieving was pushing up the street price of the prescription drugs of abuse because the peddlers would try to make up for profits lost to seized consignments. When SADA arrived, peddlers faced a jail-term and stiff punishments. In its original form, SADA tried to make a clear differentiation between peddlers and addicts and also took on a social responsibility by working in rehabilitation of addicts into sections of the law. In the ten years that SADA has been around, however, more people than anyone could have imagined to be peddlers have been convicted and it will not come as a surprise if some addicts have also become history-sheeters as peddlers.
The nature of addiction, however, is such that there is a very fine line dividing peddlers from addicts and it is not rare for the latter to sometimes crossover to the peddling business to finance their addictions. The original draft of SADA appeared to understand these nuances. Unfortunately, in the past slightly over a decade, it has become only a policing tool and has lost all its more humane aspects. It would however be wrong to blame the police for this Frankenstein. Like the State’s drug problem, even SADA becoming so much lesser than what it had potential for, is because the society continues to fail its young. It is worrying that the only agency involved in the battle against drugs is the Police. Cops are responsible for law & order and invariably treat the people who come to them or whom they chase down, as victims or criminals. Substance abuse, unfortunately, is not as black & white as the police is trained to see cases. It is for the grey areas to be addressed with empathy and long-term impact that one needs the society at large to step up. Social organizations need to have a more involved presence in the efforts against addiction. One should read more about counseling and awareness sessions than drug-busts and arrests.
No, the cops should not stop what they are doing, but that cannot be the only thing Sikkim is doing to address the problem of substance abuse. Addiction cannot be solved by locking up all the peddlers and addicts. Sikkim should have understood that by now because ten years since a specialist law was brought in to address a Sikkim-specific drug problems, there has not been any dip in either addiction levels or peddling or the cost that addiction extracts from families, homes and the State.
And all this failure because the social engagement, the wider collaborations and the community feeling required to build more resolute defences against substances of abuse have not be created. And again, the only effort towards course correction is coming from the State Government again, as was announced by the Chief Minister recently when he shared that the government will be looking out with more empathy towards addicts. This announcement is welcome, but what is still missing is the people’s engagement…