special | Kashmir sees 2,000% spike in heroin abuse cases in 5 years as Pak injects narco-terror poison

Every hour a new drug addict is found at a de-addiction center in Jammu and Kashmir. In 2016, the Oral Substitution Therapy (OST) center at the Government Medical College, Srinagar reported only 489 cases, a seven-fold increase to 3,000 in 2017. In 2019, this number increased to 7,000 and crossed the 10,000 mark in 2021 with an overall spike of 2,000% over the past five years.

Officials say the number of drug addicts in the union territory is on a “horrifyingly constant increase”. What is even more worrying, he says, is that these patients range from socioeconomic classes, from different regions of Jammu and Kashmir, and are in the age group of ten to twelve years.

Growing drug hazards and related health crises

21-year-old Hashim (name changed), a resident of Khanyar, Srinagar, sits quietly on a cold metal bench in the poorly lit verandah of OST Srinagar that leads directly to the counseling room. At least six others are waiting in front of him. He is here for his regular session.

Speaking to CNN-News18, Hashim recalls that nine years ago it all started with the use of cannabis. Then he was only 12 years old. He is a serious heroin addict for the past five years. It was only after he developed serious health complications and exhausted all his finances, that he succumbed to his family’s constant demands to report her to the de-addiction center.

“I was in sixth grade when I started taking drugs. In no time, I moved to pharmaceutical opioids and then to heroin. By the time I could figure it out, I had developed serious health conditions. I survived only on heroin without any food or necessary medicine. Soon, we had no money and I had ruined my family’s life,” said Hashim, who now works at a spice packaging unit in Srinagar.

Two persons ahead of Hashim, another patient is sitting. With a face mask in his hand, anxiously waiting to enter the counseling room, he says he has been fighting heroin addiction for the past six years. “The doctors say the damage I have done to my health will take years to heal. I have so far spent more than Rs 1 crore in purchase of drugs and then in my treatment in a period of 18 years,” said the man, who is now 31 and lives with his family in Buchpora area of ​​Srinagar.

The increasing cases of drug abuse, especially among such youth, have also worried doctors.

Dr Fazal, a senior resident of OST Srinagar who treats such patients on a day-to-day basis, says he has seen drug abuse patients as young as 10 years old. “Most of them give up because of peer pressure. Almost every patient we see describes how they start with cannabis or alcohol and then move to pharmaceutical opioids and soon to heroin, before they even know what’s coming,” he said.

“Till 2010 we had only heard of mental health issues related to drug opioid addiction in Jammu and Kashmir. Heroin cases started in 2012 but in 2016 we saw a huge jump. Since then, 95% of drug addicts have been heroin users. The overall increase in the number of drug abuse patients is enormous. From less than 489 patients in 2016, the number of patients in our center increased to more than 10,000 in 2021. This has shocked and worried all of us. Even more worrying is that in 2021 at least 35% of these patients were students. Around 60%-70% of all patients suffer from serious diseases like hepatitis B or C and even HIV in some cases,” Fazal said.

When CNN-News18 contacted officials of the Union Territory Administration, they said they were aware of the situation. However, despite several efforts to curb the growing drug menace at all levels, he fears that Jammu and Kashmir is headed for a serious health crisis.

Yasir M Chowdhury, director of the Jammu and Kashmir government’s National Health Mission, said the increase in cases is clear and there are health issues as well.

“We receive a lot of cases in our National Viral Hepatitis Control Program. We have about 1,200 hepatitis C patients registered. About 80% of these are IV users, possibly drug addicts. These are only registered cases while many others may not have even got themselves tested. Their medicines are expensive. Many of the drug vials that we give them sell them to buy medicine. We are expecting a rise in the cases of acute liver failure here,” said the official.

Women in Ease of Access and Addiction

The menace of substance abuse in Kashmir has not left the woman untouched. In a worrying trend, experts suggest, “a third” of the victims of substance abuse in Kashmir are women. Activists and counselors who visit schools and colleges for awareness programs say women’s participation remains unusual because they seek treatment or support primarily because of the stigma associated with drug abuse and related mental health issues. does not come

Ranbir Kaur, counselor of Chhote Taray, an NGO working on rehabilitation of patients, said that the participation of women in drug abuse is increasing. “We have seen many cases of women battling drug addiction. There is this associated stigma, societal pressure and the associated taboo that they do not come forward until their condition worsens, requiring immediate hospitalization,” she said.

Experts say that apart from the associated stigma and societal pressure, scarce resources for women in Jammu and Kashmir also prevent them from coming out in the open.

Dr. Mudasir, who runs a de-addiction facility in Anantnag, said that if we consider mental health related to drug addiction as a disease, then it is very clear that women who are in drug addiction will also suffer from it.

“With such easy availability of drugs, especially heroin, in schools, colleges and other public places, anyone can fall prey to it. Unfortunately we lack facilities for women. There are no dedicated rehabilitation centers for female patients. With increasing cases and participation of women, I believe we need to focus our attention on women without delay,” she said.

Emphasizing on the easy availability of drugs and the urgent need to address it, activist and Chhote Taray founder Arjumand Makhdoomi said that he has come across cases where drugs were being consumed in schools.

“The root cause of such alarming rise in drug abuse cases in Kashmir is simply easy availability. Unless we cut supply, we cannot control demand. Our security agencies are working on busting the supply chain, but the administration also needs to take strong steps before it is too late. Abundant presence of narcotics, mainly heroin, has increased manifold in Kashmir. Given the regular operations of our security forces, there is no doubt that these narcotics are coming into Pakistan from across the border.

Cross-Border Narco-Terror Connect

In an early morning operation on 24 June, the Budgam Police in Kashmir arrested four people. Two magazines along with three grenades and 65 round AK-47 rifles were recovered from them. Apart from these, the recovered material of banned terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was a game changer.

Senior officials said preliminary investigation revealed that those arrested were allegedly involved in providing logistic support to Lashkar-e-Taiba by distributing proceeds of narcotics trade to militants and terrorist operatives operating in the Valley. .

Speaking to CNN-News18, a senior officer who was part of the operation said that the interrogation of four people revealed that their module was working on the instructions of terror operatives for drug collection and later terrorists. distributing the income between

In another case last year, the NIA had arrested ten people from Uri in Kashmir in an alleged case of narco-terrorism. Following the arrests, two pistols, magazines, 10 live bullets, five Chinese-made grenades and five packets of heroin weighing 4.75 kg along with Rs 3 lakh were recovered.

“During interrogation, the men said that they had found a total of 11 packets of heroin and ten grenades, four pistols, magazines and 20 rounds from across the border. Out of Rs 3 lakh recovered from him, Rs 1 lakh was given by a contact in Uri, to whom he gave two pistols, one magazine, two rounds and five grenades. Then he gave two packets of heroin to a person in Uri for Rs 2 lakh. We also found that one of the arrested persons was in contact with an associate named Mushtaq Ahmed in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), who was providing them all narcotics, arms and ammunition from across the border . official on condition of anonymity.

The men further told the interrogators that the weapons were given to the terrorists to carry out terrorist acts, while the drugs were to be sold and the money received was kept as a reward and a part of it was sent to the terrorists for arranging logistics. went.

“We also found that one of the accused was in direct contact with a textile trader from Amritsar, who operated from UAE. The father of an arrested person was in Ferozepur jail and was in contact with someone in Pakistan. It was the UAE man who got directions from Pakistan and then gave orders to others,” the official said.

Agencies identify main routes of narco smuggling India Through porous borders along the LoC in the border areas of Tangdhar, Kupwara, Poonch, Rajouri, Baramulla and Uri in Kashmir while Samba and Kathua near Jammu.

The local police also claim that Pakistan’s role in the rise in drug cases, especially heroin, is evident in Jammu and Kashmir.

Sujit K Singh, Deputy Inspector General of Jammu and Kashmir Police said that regular action and past seizure of trucks carrying quintals of narcotic substances brought into India under the guise of transporting dry fruits or fruits is proof of this. “These confiscated trucks are still in our possession,” he said.

Singh said that with the increase in cases, the police have intensified action at three levels – supply busting, demand tracking and detaining workers from jails. “Many such syndicates are being run from jails as these small time peddlers participate in big players and members of terrorist group, who are lodged in jails of Jammu and Kashmir,” the DIG said.

The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), the nodal authority for drug control in the country, also backed the claims of the NIA and the Jammu and Kashmir Police.

Rajesh Kumar, Zonal Director, NCB, Jammu and Kashmir said that 90% of the opium produced is Afghanistan From where it is sent to Pakistan. “In Pakistan, opium is converted into heroin which is then illegally pumped into India. We have intensified our action. The aim is to cut the incoming supply which is clearly Pakistan sponsored,” Kumar said.

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