Tracking a High

Among the substance abused, Codeine Phosphate has emerged as one of most sought after addicted drug in valley over the years. With police seizing such contrabands at an alarming rate, Bilal Handoo traces market, methods, and madness for the drug

Pampore police with seized Codeine Phosphate contraband and peddlers.
Pampore police with seized Codeine Phosphate contraband and peddlers.

On February 14, 2015, somebody rang up J&K police. “Hello, police helpline?” the caller enquired. “Yes, speaking,” the receiver confirmed. “Look, three persons have become nuisance for locals in Shergarhi area of Srinagar. They are openly selling drugs. Please look into the matter.” And with that, the call ended.

Shortly the police party from nearby Shergarhi police station left on task. And soon Waseem Ahmad Sheikh of Tankipora, Fayaz Ahmad Makroo of Court Road and Abdul Rashid Sofi of old Chanpora were arrested. A large quantity of codeine phosphate bottles was recovered from them. An FIR number 10/2015 under section 8/22 NDPS Act was registered against the trio in the police station. And, investigation was taken up.

Five days later…

Police helpline buzzed again. “One Alto car travelling from Srinagar to Ganderbal is ferrying illegal drugs. Please check,” a panting voice informed the police and hurriedly dropped the call.

The call swung a police party from Zakoora police station into action. A checking near Petrol Pump Zakoora was started. After a while, an Alto car bearing registration number JK01J/4321 was intercepted. The driver, one Riyaz Ahmad Malla of Kondabal, Manasbal was seen getting panic. His uneasiness made a perfect sense when police recovered 590 bottles of codeine phosphate from his car. Malla was arrested. An FIR number 03/2015 under section 22 NDPS Act was registered against him.

After a brief interrogation, Malla revealed that the contraband was being transported to Ganderbal district for “sale among the youth indulged in its abuse”.

A day after in Pampore…

It was February 20 when some local from Pampore rang up the police helpline: “Some persons driving a load-carrier are known drug peddlers.  Please act against the duo. They are involved in drug abuse in the town.”

Immediately Pampore police headed by SHO Raja Tasleem laid a cordon near Ziyarat Sharief Dusso Pampore. After a while, an “unregistered” load-carrier was intercepted. Two persons Mudasir Ahmad Rather of Munpora (Wuyan) and Fayaz Ahmad Mir of Dussu (Pampore) were onboard.

A police search soon recovered 968 bottles of codeine phosphate from them. The duo was slapped with an FIR no. 27/2015 under section 8/21 NDPS Act. “The duo ferried their codeine contraband on a truck from outside the state,” says SHO Tasleem. “We are monitoring the trend and are hopeful to crack the whip on peddlers who are pumping illegal codeine into local markets.”

These frequent calls didn’t stop there. They are still buzzing the police helpline. And one after another, drug peddlers are being arrested. Behind these supposedly massive public callings was a request: “People are requested that if they notice any such illicit activity (drug peddling) in their areas, they should inform the police instantly.”

It was a request from J&K police for their drive against drug addiction in Kashmir. The request was followed by helpline numbers, which were given to general public with a vow: “The identity of conscious citizens will be kept secret.”

It was because of these repeated appeals, besides frequent public callings, that helped police to arrest 11 peddlers only in Srinagar in January this year. Apart from other abused substances, 985 bottles of codeine phosphate were recovered.

However, the calls on police helpline and subsequent recovery of codeine phosphate didn’t start from this year only. Last year, hundreds of such calls rang up the helpline and helped cops to round up peddlers.

Two such calls were made on November 20, 2014. One call came from north Kashmir’s Kupwara. On a tip-off, the police party of Drugmulla laid a cordon at Natnusa, Kupwara. Shortly, one Manzoor Ahmad Ganie and Mazaffar Hussain Shah of Nagri Malpora of Kupwara were arrested with 425 bottles of codeine phosphate.

Another call came from south Kashmir’s Shopian, which subsequently led to the arrest of a notorious drug peddler, Mukhtar Naikoo of Memandar Shopian. Some 50 bottles of codeine phosphate were recovered from him.

Earlier in the month, a public call came from restive Sopore. It helped police to arrest a non-local peddler, Mohammad Javid Idreesi, of Kotwali Bijnoor UP putting up at Khankah-i-Moalla Sopore. He was arrested along with a local peddler, Aabid Shafi Dar of New Colony Sopore. Around 400 bottles of codeine phosphate were recovered from them on November 11, 2014. An FIR No.172/14 under section 8/22 NDPS now stands registered against the duo in Police station Tarzoo.

Codeine Phosphate
Codeine Phosphate

But the ‘raging’ codeine intoxication doesn’t end there only. Last summer. Another call. And, a lady peddler!

A police party led by SHO Shergarhi, Mohammad Isaaq arrested a lady peddler, Nelofer on August 11, 2014. A wife of Sajad Ahmad Khan of Srinagar’s Jawahar Nagar, she was arrested with 30 codeine phosphate bottles (besides 480 Alprox tablets). An FIR number 73/2014 under section 22 NDPS Act was registered against her.

By end of 2014, police with public support had seized 16,000 codeine bottles besides 1000 kilograms of cannabis, 115 kilograms of brown sugar and 14,000 tablets of psychotropic drugs in Kashmir.

“Drug addiction (especially toward codeine) is posing a serious challenge to our society,” asserts AG Mir, Inspector General of Police (Kashmir). “And if this menace is not checked now, it is going to assume problem with larger magnitude.”

Mir says the substance abuse like codeine and its derivatives are availed and used through a proper prescription (a legal way). “But it’s availability to youth without prescription is deeply rooted in our system of almost free over the counter availability of   medicines,” he says.

It is in this context, he says, that J&K police tried to understand its role and started contributing towards eradicating this menace: “It is the cause very near to our hearts. The objective is to bridge the gap between police and public.”

Codeine phosphate is an opioid analgesic (pain reliever) drug. It is primarily used to treat many causes of mild to moderate pain. It belongs to the class of medications called narcotic analgesics. It works by blocking pain signals that are sent out by the brain to various areas of the body.

“The drug is also used to control coughing that is not controlled by non-narcotic cough suppressants,” says Dr Zameer Bhat, a general physician. “Codeine phosphate (available in a generic form called codeine) also exists in strengths of 30 and 60mg tablets. Usual adult doses are 15 to 60 mg every 4 to 6 hours.”

Patients given 60 mg codeine every 6 hours for 2 months usually shows some tolerance and mild withdrawal symptoms. Severe symptoms of withdrawal may require administration of a replacement narcotic. “A patient in withdrawal should be treated in a hospital environment,” says Dr Bhat. “It is necessary only to provide supportive care with administration of a tranquilizer to suppress anxiety.”

The problem with codeine is that it has additive effects, Dr Bhat continues, it may be habit-forming. “Codeine is least potent than morphine,” he says. “But can produce drug dependence and subsequently creates room for abuse.”

Dr Muzaffar Khan of Srinagar’s police de-addiction centre says cough syrups like codeine is the most popular in valley as it is openly available in the market. “About 80 per cent of in-patients at police de-addiction are addicted to prescription drugs, in particular to codeine-phosphate,” he says. “Most of these addicted boys take codeine to escape than pleasure.”

“When we woke up to substance abuse,” says Dr Arshad Hussain, a well-known psychiatrist of valley (who believes drug-addiction is common among the age-group 18-30), “we were caught unawares. There was already an epidemic going on.”

The “epidemic” has also made the prominent cleric of valley, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, to pan his focus on societal affairs. He sounded like a ‘prophet of doom’ from his magnificent Jamia Masjid pulpit where he repeatedly said: “With drugs available in every nook and corner, we have both boys and girls using it. We have a huge mafia using it.”

Medicinal opioids (like codeine), continues Mirwaiz, are continuously being used. “Our chemists shouldn’t sell medicine without prescription. The need is to address the supply chain.”

What Mirwaiz is saying is confirmed by scores of medical representatives (MR) of valley who keep placing formal orders for codeine at their respective companies. “Apart from pumping codeine through illegal channels into valley,” says Showkat Hassan, a senior medical representative of valley, “the formal way is: MRs place orders with the company. Company made the order available at super-stockists which supply it to stockists, who in turn supply drugs to chemists.”

The drug like codeine, he continues, is either illegally sold at stockist or at chemist level. “It so happens because proper records are often being floated at such levels,” he claims.

With alarm bells ringing, a report prepared by state health department, maintains that from March 01, 2008 to February 29, 2012, 163 addicts were businessmen followed by 162 unemployed, 148 students, 81 drivers, 77 government employees, 37 police personals, 14 were street vendors and doctors/health workers, each and nine belonged to private jobs.

The drug addiction, the report says, is high among school and college students. Information obtained from Baramulla district in fact shows that 20 per cent of students in higher secondary schools and 30 per cent in colleges are consuming illicit drugs.

There has to be responsibility in the availability and sale of drugs like codeine, believes IGP Mir: “Till that happens, we cannot control the menace.”

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