Many facets of global drug trade: India extremely vulnerable

Last Updated : 20 September 2020, 21:17 IST

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The investigation of the death of film star Sushant Singh Rajput in Mumbai took a sudden twist with drug abuse getting focus instead of the cause of his death. Separately, several drug-related arrests were made in Karnataka.

Drug trade is truly an international one leading to the common saying, “opium is harvested in Lebanon, heroin manufactured in the south of France and the addict is located in the New York or France”. Smuggling of drugs is so lucrative in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia that it has earned the sobriquet ’Golden Triangle’ while Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan constitute the ‘Golden Crescent’, notorious for illicit opium production.

Ganja, also known as Marijuana or Cannibis is grown extensively in India whose use can cause marked alterations in moods. It is used as Bhang, Siddhi, Patti and Sabji as an ingredient in ’Thandai’, ‘Pakoras’ and ‘halwa’. Charas is the Hindi name for Hashish. Marijuana and Hashish are smoked with tobacco and it emanates an unmistakable smell akin to sweetish hay. They are also consumed in the form of jam, cake or tea.

Amphetamine and Methamphetamine are the synthetic drug varieties (stimulants) while barbiturates and tranquillisers sold in pharmacies under prescription, are depressants. Under the category of narcotics are opium, morphine and Codeine (plant source) while Pethidine, Meperidine and Methadone are synthetically prepared. There is a wide variety of hallucinogens - Lycergic Acid Diethalamide (LSD), Dimethoxy Methylene Amphetamine (STP), Dimethyl Tryptamine (DMT), Mescaline and Phencylidine (PCP). These are generally smuggled into our country

Designer drugs and rave parties: Also called ‘club drugs’ because of their use in clubs, these drugs are made in such a manner that they mimic the pharmacological effects of the original drug thereby avoiding classification as illegal. MDMA, Ketamine, GHB, Rohypnol, LSD etc are therefore popular in rave parties perhaps because they escape detection in standard drug tests. Another drug known as Psilocybin, sourced from a certain variety of mushroom, is said to be commonly in vogue in rave parties.

The estimate of global drug trade is of the order of $360 billion contributed by Heroin - $100-110 billion, Cocaine $110-130 billion, Cannabis $75 billion and synthetic drugs $60 billion. The world drug report 2020 of the UN states that the economic hardship resulting from Covid-19 has aggravated illegal drug production, supply and consumption. India is extremely vulnerable in this.

Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act): It is the common lament of enforcement personnel that laws in our country are toothless. But the NDPS Act is an honourable exception. While the Act makes a distinction among possession, transporting and selling, the quantity one possesses makes a big difference in deciding the quantum of penalty.

The law thus treats a victim and an active trader differently. An enlightened feature of the Act is the creation of a national fund for drug abuse intended to be used for education against abuse, treatment and rehabilitation of victims etc. If the governing body of the fund supports and collaborates with international non-profit like Narcotic Anonymous, it will go a long way in reducing drug abuse and related crime.

All special laws in general and NDPS Act in particular call for proactive enforcement. Unlike crimes relating to the Indian Penal Code where a case is launched after receiving a complaint, there are fewer or no complaints under NDPS Act. The trick is in collecting intelligence to track down transportation, smuggling, supply and abuse leading to the apprehension of drug peddlers. Therefore, statistics do not reflect the true situation regarding the extent and volume of drug trade and consumption in our country.

In 2017, a total of 63,800 cases were booked under the Act - 41,056 cases for personal consumption and 22,744 cases trafficking; 1,126 cases were booked in Karnataka (481-645). Enforcement in Bengaluru has been poor with just 354 cases (2-352). The drive against drugs did not get any better in 2018 with 63,137 cases (38,715-24,422) for the country, Karnataka and Bengaluru booking 1,030 (517-513) and 286 (2-284) cases, respectively.

The quantity of contraband drugs seized was 36,16,881 kg and 44,00,389 kg in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The seized contraband is only the tip of the iceberg as compared to the extent of smuggling and trafficking in drugs. Out of 36,067 persons prosecuted in 2017 under the NDPS Act, 27,949 were convicted in the courts as against 31,510 persons getting convicted out of 40,660 prosecuted (77.49%) in 2016.

Bengaluru prison

A report, “ Minds Imprisoned: Mental Health Care of Prisons” by Nimhans produced after a study conducted with the support of Karnataka Legal Services Authority at the Bengaluru Central Prison brought out shockingly high prevalence of drug and substance abuse - 3% of the deaths in the prison was drug-related. Prison inmates tested positive for various types of drugs with as many as 43% testing positive for Benzodiazepines. Female prison inmates were no exception to drug use.

What is more, substance abuse was found to be closely associated with mental health. An earlier report of United Nations Office of Drug and Crimes brought out that globally, 35 million people suffered from drug-related disorders adding that prevention and treatment fell short.

Films like ‘Udta Punjab’ have graphically portrayed the crisis faced by the society and its youth with regard to the drug menace. While the film highlighted the drug menace in a bordering state, the rest of the country can by no means be complacent. Scaling up enforcement within and strict surveillance along our porous borders, airports and sea ports are the only way to check drug abuse.

The number and diversity of substances, the short-lived nature of some substances in the drug market and the evolution of sequences of closely-related substances manufactured indigenously in order to circumvent control measures, are the challenges for the forensic scientists of the country. The non-availability of ‘Certified Reference Standards’ and validated methods of analysis which have not matched the number of new drugs, pose difficulties for the forensic personnel while conducting analysis and proving the cases in the courts.

(The writer is former Director General and Inspector General of Police, Karnataka. Inputs on forensic science were provided by V G Nayak, Deputy Director (retd) and N G Prabhakar, Assistant Director (retd), Karnataka State Forensic Science Laboratory)

Published 20 September 2020, 20:55 IST

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