Why Do Drug Addicts Need To Be Treated In Hospitals?

by Tajamul Islam

“Imagine if the government chased sick people with diabetes, put a tax on insulin and drove it into a black market, told doctors that they couldn’t treat them……then sent them to jail. If we did that, everyone would know we were crazy. Yet we do practically the same thing every day in the week to sick people hooked on drugs.”
Johann Hari

Understanding how drug addiction crept into the region of heaven where people are thought to be living in peace – where they are supposed to be in peace – and whether punishment is the only effective way to stop this menace are crucial to combating the Drug Menace as a major threat to life and young lives. The drug problem in Jammu and Kashmir is caused by a number of external and internal reasons, both of which exacerbate the situation. Drugs can easily enter every district of the erstwhile State and due to the region’s geographical proximity to the international border. Other internal variables include the unrest in the area and, of course, the high unemployment rate, which makes it relatively simple for youth to use drugs as a means of escaping reality. There are other causes too for the rise of abuse but certainly, the most contributing factors are these two in the current times.  These factors target youth and there is growing frustration and helplessness among them.

A comprehensive piece of legislation that regulates drug possession, use, and sale is the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS Act), passed in 1985. Since its inception, the Act has drawn a variety of criticisms on the grounds that it is harsh on addicts as well, who are merely patients and nothing more. The various amendments of the Act aim to (a) prevent drug trafficking through harsh penalties and (b) achieve drug addict rehabilitation. The law provides for medical treatment and de-addiction for individuals identified as drug addicts.

The NDPS Act has failed to meet its twin objectives of deterrence and rehabilitation in Jammu and Kashmir. The deterrent effect of the NDPS is nowhere to be seen as daily news reports of drug dealers being apprehended and shocking amounts of drugs being seized continuously appear, but we are also witnessing the spiralling effects of drug trafficking, which severely harm those who have developed drug dependence and are vulnerable to drug abuse. Despite the fact that real attempts are being made to halt drug trafficking, the effectiveness of these measures is called into question when we consider the ease with which drugs may be purchased in Jammu and Kashmir.

Rehabilitation Efforts

On the count of rehabilitation, the government’s efforts to set up drug rehabilitation facilities move slowly. There is an urgent need for new drug rehabilitation facilities with up-to-date equipment and enough staff to achieve the desired results while also satisfying the goal of rehabilitation.

Given the surge in danger and the horrifying picture of substance misuse that has afflicted every district, town, and mohalla, there is also a need to construct drug rehabilitation facilities in each hospital.

The overcrowded Government Psychiatric Hospital in Srinagar is the sole mental health institution in the valley. Drug Addicts (patients) from remote places, especially the poor, are unable to be transported to this clinic. The fact that we now lack the humane approach and appropriate care facilities needed to address the problem of drug addiction makes it worse for addicts, who are not any different from other patients with mental conditions.

“Imagine if the government chased sick people with diabetes, put a tax on insulin and drove it into a black market, told doctors that they couldn’t treat them……then sent them to jail. If we did that, everyone would know we were crazy. Yet we do practically the same thing every day in the week to sick people hooked on drugs,” British Swiss Writer, Johann Hari, once wrote.

The Prison Issues

Numerous issues are being faced by our prison system, with the most challenging one being overpopulation. According to the data, this author obtained through RTI, Jammu and Kashmir’s prisons have an intake capacity of 3360 inmates, yet 5236 inmates are currently being kept, which is a significant number. These numbers clearly show that, due to a lack of available capacity, our jails are unable to absorb new inmates every day.

We need to look at the number of inmates being kept for various offences, and when the majority of the convicts are being held under NDPS, it is definitely going to hit the criminal justice system badly. The highest number of inmates to be placed under the NDPS was 1288 in August 2022, and the number then sharply declines to 728 in October this year.

This reflects that either the people under NDPS get acquitted or bailed out, and the Courts understand the fact that keeping behind bars is the last resort. The numbers also show that all those released must be individuals from whom only small quantities of drugs have been found, and the law makes an exception for them because they are typically addicts rather than drug dealers. Additionally, there are currently hundreds of inmates awaiting trials but just 22 convictions under NDPS in J&K Prisons.

Managing Addicts

The law provides for a special provision for addicts if they consent to receive medical treatment for de-addiction, addicts are exempt from prosecution for small-quantity drug offences and consumption under S.39 and S.64A of NDPS Act. If the addict doesn’t receive the whole course of de-addiction treatment, the immunity could be revoked.

In addition, the Act provides for treatment and rehabilitation under S.71, which gives the government the authority to take any action relating to the identification, treatment, education, after-care, rehabilitation, and social reintegration of addicts. As many centres as it sees proper for the identification, management, and treatment of addicts may be established, recognised, or approved.

Treatment for addicts in government hospitals is the duty of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Health Departments of State Governments. The State Social Welfare Departments and the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment have been tasked with conducting drug demand reduction initiatives.

The couple was held for drug peddling in Hazratbal on September 30, 2022, by Jammu and Kashmir Police.

Huge Population

There are reportedly 70 thousand drug users living in the Kashmir division alone, with 31 per cent of them being women, according to a report by the United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP). Hypothetically going by these figures and the approach followed under NDPS, we would need to erect dozens of jails to house the 70 000 persons who would be arrested under the NDPS, which would place an undue burden on the judiciary. Is it feasible for such a huge infrastructure to be built with taxpayer money?

We can, however, afford to build centres for rehabilitation where patients can later successfully reintegrate into society and can contribute efficiently later. With the current jail system, however, it is impossible due to the unfriendly environment for rehabilitation.

Re-evaluate The Strategy

Tajamul Islam

Instead of condemning drug users for their actions, we need to re-evaluate our approach to this population and work to help them overcome it. “We have lost one generation by weapons and another generation by drugs,” experts say in reference to the worsening conditions.. Rehabilitation is the only treatment that will end this epidemic, and it is also supported by medical opinion.

It is society’s responsibility to show these addicts compassion and understanding, not to throw them out, which would only serve to further alienate them from it. Experts believe that drug addicts might relate to the proverb “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” Addicts are dying every day, thus we need to prevent their deaths, which is achievable in hospitals and rehabilitation centres rather than prisons.

(The author is a law graduate from the University of Kashmir and currently working as VALE Fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, New Delhi. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)


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