Substance abuse goes beyond street kids

Substance abuse goes beyond street kids

It is as simple as buying a Rs 20 tube of ‘whitener,’ squeezing its contents onto a piece of cloth and inhaling it away to ‘glory’.

But the harmful impacts this small tube can have on health are not minor. This cheap method of getting high is one in a long list comprising paint thinners, polishes, aerosols and any substance with toluene content.

Such forms of substance abuse was commonly found among street children at railway platforms and slums. But frighteningly, it is becoming highly prevalent among youngsters in metros and tier-II cities.

While there are studies on inhalant drug abuse among poor and homeless children in Bangalore, the City’s affluent party-going youth are yet to come under the scanner.

At least 30 per cent of street children in the age group of 10 to 15 were found to indulge in drug abuse according to a study in 1996 by World Health Organisation. The situation has not changed in Bangalore among street children.

However, more young people from higher social economic backgrounds are visiting the clinics, says Vivek Benegal from the Department of Psychiatry at Nimhans.

“This is a troubling matter as substance abuse using whiteners, paint, thinners and solvents was not so common among youth from well-to-do families in 1996,” said Benegal. He says: “This means children of doctors, engineers and journalists are all exposed to such addiction. This is mainly because of its ‘cool factor’ and these children get higher acceptability in groups at schools.”

While reducing supply of such materials in stores is one aspect of solving the problem, Pratima Murthy - professor, Nimhans and expert on alcohol and substance abuse - finds it meaningless for whiteners to be still produced in this day of computers. “Who uses whiteners for their real purpose these days? Just ban their sale in stores,” says Murthy.

There are only two companies that manufacture whitener tubes in India, she adds. She feels the authorities need to look into the problem with great seriousness. Lack of strong laws and such materials not being brought under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act are impediments in curbing the problem.

The Society for Assistance to Children in Difficult Situation (SATHI) has been working towards saving lives of children on railway platforms and slums who are addicted to inhalants for the past 18 years. Basavaraj Shali, a member of SATHI, says at least three to four children could be found suffering on railway platforms due to excessive substance abuse, at any point in time.

Strongly addicted

“Such drugs reduce hunger and induce sleep in these children. That is why they are so strongly addicted to them,” said Shali.

Substance abuse has been reported in children as young as five years old, say doctors. There needs to be an in-depth study commissioned by the government on policies to reduce supply of such materials and restrictions placed on their use.

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