The Killer Heroin

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Gone are the days when Heroin was just passing through Kashmir. Now its use is gradually overtaking other drugs and the economically well-off are the prime targets. In order to understand how the crisis is following Kashmir from within, Shams Irfan met two individuals who have spent more than half a crore rupees to sustain their intake, but are desperate to quit now

Representational image of youth taking drugs.

Sitting side-by-side on hospital-style beds inside police run Drug De-addiction Centre (DDC), Anantnag, friends Shabir, 36, and Sameer, 35, are desperate to get rid of heroin addiction that has ruined their lives. It is their fourth day at the DDC, and so far they are clean. But staying clean is not easy for them as the urge to snort “just once” ring in their mind all the time. “I know if I snort again, I will relapse as I did last time,” said Shabir with a hint of tears in his eyes as Sameer looks on helplessly.

In August 2018, both Shabir and Sameer were first sent to DDC by their families to help them rid their addiction.

Their first night at the DDC was horrible, as, without drugs, they went on a rampage and started damaging things inside the centre. However, after ten days of stay, they both slipped away from the DDC and relapsed. “It is not easy for a person to get de-addicted. The urge to do drugs is killing,” said Shabir. “Besides, one has no control over his body or mind when high.”

Since early 2014, when Shabir and Sameer first started to take heroin regularly, they have spent a large part of their income on its purchase. “I must have spent over Rs 50 lakh on heroin in last four years,” claims Shabir. “But see what I got in return: I lost my family, my friends, my self-respect, my business, my entire life.”

In the last two years, DDC Anantnag has received over sixty cases of heroin addiction from areas near highway town Qazigund. “Since 2016, there is a huge surge in heroin-related cases in Kashmir,” said Dr Mudassir Aziz, 32, Clinical Psychologist who counsels patients at DDC, Anantnag. “It (heroin) has decimated many lives. Take for instance Shabir and Sameer, who had a successful construction business. Now they were literally begging for help to kick the addiction.”

Shabir and Sameer, who once had everything: happy married life, two kids each, a successful construction business and respect, now want to end their lives or get rid of the addiction. “I cannot bear the humiliation. My wife and kids don’t talk to me anymore,” said Shabir, trying to plead for a miracle. “I never thought a few shots of heroin which we took for fun will ruin our lives.”

Drug peddlers arrested in Budgam.

But what they considered a few casual shots for sake of fun were part of a plan designed by an infamous peddler. “I regret the time when I inhaled that first shot,” said Shabir, with sadness in his voice.

First Shot

On a hot afternoon in 2014, Shabir, then 32, was sitting with Sameer and his friends at a petrol pump in Lower Munda, a highway town around 80 kilometres south of Srinagar, when Adil, an acquaintance from nearby Bonigam village walked towards them. Shabir, who was there to buy a second-hand car, quickly greeted Adil and then busied himself in the negotiations. “He (Adil) took one of my friends outside to smoke,” recalls Shabir. “I didn’t see anything odd.”

Around ten minutes later, Shabir and Sameer left negotiations midway and went out to smoke cigarettes. Once outside, Shabir and Sameer – who were chain-smokers since their teenage – joined Adil and their friend, at the backside of the petrol pump. “They were inhaling smoke rising from an aluminium foil using crisp Rs 10 note as a pipe,” recalls Shabir. “I had never seen anyone doing such a thing in my life.”

This fascinated Shabir and Sameer, and out of curiosity, they asked Adil for a shot. “We quickly snorted a few shots and went back to negotiate the car deal,” said Shabir.

That evening when Shabir reached home, he started feeling nauseating with an extreme headache. “I felt like puking so I ate a few oranges,” said Shabir. “But I could hardly sleep the entire night as I was craving for something.”

The next morning as Shabir visited one of the construction sites to check the progress of the work, Adil came to him with a smile on his face. “He acted as if we were close friends,” recalls Shabir. “I too talked to him nicely.”

Then, to Shabir’s surprise, Adil took him aside and gave him a pinch of white powder. It was half-a-gram of heroin. “He then showed me how to snort it using an aluminium foil,” recalls Shabir. “Initially I tried to refuse but my body and mind was not in my control.”

Before Adil left, he gave Shabir a small amount of white power and told him to keep it safe as it costs a lot. “I had never heard about heroin before,” said Shabir.

A few hours later when Shabir’s friend Sameer joined him, he too looked wasted and desperate. That evening, Shabir, who had recently learned how to snort heroin showed Sameer his skills and they both smoked. “We felt great. It was one of the best feelings,” recalls Shabir.

For the next six days, Adil would visit Shabir and Sameer every morning with one gram of heroin and leave. “We would use half a gram each. He never asked us for money,” said Shabir. “But we had no idea we were falling in a trap. Later, I came to know that he (Adil) had done our background checks and asked around about our financial condition.”

Shabir, whose entry into construction business coincided with massive infrastructure building on Srinagar-Jammu highway, earned wealth and reputation quickly. “People used to come to me for suggestions and to help sort out disputes,” recalls Shabir. “I was a respected figure in my area.”

But everything was soon going to change for Shabir, as he slipped into a dark world of drugs.

Addiction and Shame

On the seventh day as Shabir and Sameer desperately waited for Adil to show up with their day’s dose of heroin, he didn’t come. “We were completely addicted to heroin by then without even realizing it,” recalls Shabir.

By afternoon, when the wait turned painful, they started calling him frenetically, but he didn’t respond. As the urge got stronger Shabir and Sameer boarded their car and visited Bonigam village in Qazigund outskirts to locate Adil. “We started asking everyone about his whereabouts,” recalls Shabir.

After an hour’s search, they finally located Adil at a roadside tea-stall, which he ran as part of the cover to sell drugs. “We straightaway asked him for some heroin as the urge was unbearable now,” recalls Sameer.

Taking full advantage of Shabir and Sameer’s addiction, Adil told them that they would have to pay for it onwards. “We were dying to have it at any cost,” said Shabir. “So we asked him how much it costs.”

To Shabir and Sameer’s surprise, a gram of heroin was sold for Rs 3000 that too if one has right connections and knew dealers like Adil personally. “For last six days, Adil had given us half-a-gram each for free. Now we understood why,” said Shabir. “He had succeeded in making us addicts.”

After Adil refused to bargain the price, Shabir and Sameer, who were craving to have a shot, paid him in cash Rs 15000 for five grams. “We were literally at his mercy so got five days worth of quota for ourselves,” said Shabir.

That day onwards, Shabir and Sameer’s day would start by snorting heroin in the washroom. Then they would visit the construction site, where they used to take a few more shots. In the evening, they would come home and take a few more shots before going to bed. “Within days we lost both, the appetite and the urge to do anything in life. All day we would stay high, lost in our own world,” said Sameer.

Initially, Shabir, who is married with two children, aged five and three, tried to keep himself away from home. He was keen that his new found addiction is not detected by anyone in the family. But it didn’t take long before Shabir’s wife sensed something wrong in him. “I would come home late and head straight to my room. I started to live a loner’s life with almost no interaction with my wife or kids,” said Shabir with a hint of tears in his eyes.

In good days, he would come home early from a construction site and spend quality time with his aged parents and children. He would also actively participate in all family functions. “My life turned upside down after I got addicted to heroin,” said Shabir sadly.

But now every evening Shabir would come home and go straight to his room, without having dinner. He would sit in front of a television without watching it for hours. “Initially, I would smoke around thirty cigarettes a day apart from half-a-gram of heroin,” said Shabir.

Same was the case with his friend and partner Sameer. Within a year of getting addicted to heroin, both Shabir and Sameer moved on to one gram each per day, which cost them collectively Rs 6000 daily. “Our daily need of cigarettes was now almost five packs,” said Sameer. “Besides, we would eat whatever was given to us, caring little for taste or quality.”

Their indifference with life, food and family made everyone in their home suspicious about their activities.

Then one evening in late 2015, Shabir’s wife caught him snorting heroin inside the washroom. Initially, she failed to understand what Shabir was doing. But when she saw aluminium foils, white powder, spoons, and cigarette lighters, all over the washroom, she confronted him. “I had no option but to tell her about my addiction,” said Shabir. “However, in order to keep her quiet and save myself, I promised her I will quit.”

But that didn’t happen. “I tried to quit, but my body started to ache, and my legs were shaking continuously,” said Shabir.

The next day, Shabir decided not to do drugs at home as he feared he might lose his family. “That day onwards, I started to come home quite late after snorting heroin,” said Shabir.

As Shabir and Sameer became Adil’s regular customers, he would deliver them heroin at their construction site after every six days. “We helped two other friends get addicted to heroin, and then four more from our circle,” said Shabir regretfully. “So, the need of heroin was huge for our group.”

By now, Shabir and Sameer knew that Adil’s village Bonigam, which is located near Srinagar-Jammu highway, was infamous for being the epicentre of drugs. It was in its peripheries that most number of addict lives.

Risky Addiction

On July 8, 2018, after the news of Burhan Wani’s killing in Bamdoora village of Islamabad spread like wildfire, Shabir quickly called Sameer and asked him to stock heroin. “I had apprehension that situation might get worse, and we might not get anything,” said Shabir. “Besides, Adil was less accessible now as he was in and out of jail continuously.”

The next day, while entire Kashmir was in mourning, Sameer and Shabir visited a village in Kulgam on a motorcycle with Rs 50000 in cash to get heroin. “Our entire life was revolving around heroin,” said Sameer. “We would risk everything for sake of our addiction.”

By the time they rode back to their home in Lower Munda, twelve civilians were killed in the south Kashmir. “There were people on the streets everywhere,” recalls Shabir. “But we kept riding with heroin hidden in our helmets.”

In coming days, as the situation worsened across Kashmir and a curfew was imposed, Shabir and Sameer were once again out of stock. “There was no phone service either, so we had to manage everything on our own,” said Sameer.

One evening, at the peak of 2016 uprising, without caring for the situation, they drove all the way to a village in Shopian outskirts to buy heroin from one of Adil’s contacts. “We were taking ultimate risks but we had no option,” said Shabir. “Even the peddler was startled by our daring venture at such a time.”

The days that followed saw entire Kashmir getting closed as no work was going on at Shabir and Sameer’s construction sites. They mostly sat at one of their site offices and do drugs. “We were consuming our stock more frequently as there was nothing else to do,” recalls Shabir.

In order to keep heroin available, Shabir and Sameer would travel frequently to interior villages, often looking for peddlers they have been told about by Adil. “It was never easy to trace people in such circumstances in small villages,” recalls Sameer. “People used to ask questions, and see us with suspicion as no normal stranger used to travel so late during those days.”

On one occasion, Shabir and Sameer, who were coming back from a south Kashmir village after purchasing heroin for Rs 21000, were stopped by a group of angry boys. “That day we thought we will be dead,” recalls Shabir. “But after we pretended to have lost our way, we were let go.”

As situation bounced back to normalcy across Kashmir, Shabir made a weeklong visit to Jammu, as part of his work. “I took around six grams of heroin with me thinking I will be back on the seventh day,” said Shabir. But as it turned out Shabir was forced to extend his stay by at least three days, which meant he would have no heroin! “I was completely terrified,” recalls Shabir.

On the fifth day, Shabir called his contacts back in the valley for help, who immediately gave him a few addresses in Jammu. “I travelled around 100 kilometres to locate a drug peddler. And when I did, I couldn’t thank my luck as I was really desperate,” recalls Shabir.

But when the Jammu based peddler saw Shabir’s desperation, he raised the price and sold him one-gram of heroin for Rs 10,000. “I had no other option but to pay whatever price he was asking,” said Shabir.

Once home Shabir was again confronted by his wife who gave him a choice: heroin or your family. “For the next eighteen months, I kept lying to her as I had chosen heroin,” said Shabir with a hint of shame and remorse in his voice.

Finally in August 2018, after Adil, the person who got them addicted, quit heroin and underwent de-addiction therapy in Chandigarh; Shabir and Sameer too agreed to visit DDC.

“Please get us out of this mess,” pleaded Shabir with tears in his eyes while looking at his feet at DDC. “This (heroin) has ruined our lives. Please help us live a normal life or we have no other option but to kill ourselves.”

Both Sameer and Shabir’s families are hopeful that their second visit at DDC helps them get rid of the addiction.

“They are in the initial stage right now, but I am hopeful that if they stay here as required they can get clean,” said Dr Aziz.

But staying at DDC is not easy for them as chances of relapsing are always high. “Shabir’s first night at the DDC was very violent as he started breaking things when he didn’t get his dose of heroin,” said Dr Aziz. “It was really difficult to control him as he was completely out of control.”

In order to compensate their urge for heroin, Shabir and Sameer smoked around 100 cigarettes between them on their first night alone. “It takes almost fifteen days for a chronic addict like them to start the process of quitting,” said Dr Aziz. “But these first fifteen days are highly violent, and most of the addicts often relapse or simply run away.”

However, Shabir, who has lost all hope to live, is keen to get back to his normal life, the life that he once had. “I simply want to see my family happy and do my business,” said Shabir. “I know it is hard to kick the addiction, but what other choice do I have. If I don’t quit now, I will never be able to quit.”

Sameer, who listens quietly, simply nods his head in agreement but is doubtful, as with every passing day, the urge to “taste just a bit of heroin” gets stronger.

“I have seen even worst cases in my career, but it is always difficult, if not impossible to get rid of heroin,” said Dr Aziz. “In order to help such people, it is necessary to dismantle the peddling networks that are being run in south Kashmir. Unless heroin is easily available, helping people like Shabir and Sameer becomes difficult for us.”

Cannabis has remained part of Kashmir’s culture for centuries and the strategic location of the place has somehow helped it became a route to various kinds of drugs. Over the years, however, the incidents of substance abuse have gone up. Official records suggest there were 14500 cases in 2014, which had 130 per cent jump to 33222 in 2016. Tragically, most of the addicts are in the age group of 10 to 35. The alarming situation is that almost 90 per cent of the addicts fall in the 15-25 year age group.

Representational image of youth taking drugs.

An earlier study carried out by the United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) has suggested Kashmir has 70,000 drug addicts including 4000 are women and almost 70 per cent are students.

Locally grown cannabis apart, the addicts have been using SR solution, polish, petrol, thinner, erasers, correction fluid, prescribed drugs, and alcohol. But the heroine is the new entrant, and the insiders in law enforcing and de-addiction circuit said its use is increasing on daily basis.

(Names of the addicts were changed to protect their identities)

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