Alcoholism and Arunachal

[ M Doley ]

Arunachal’s culture encourages imbibing alcohol without much reservation against it. Offering apong [rice beer] to guests is a unique tribal custom which is little known to the people of the rest of the country.
Apong is also part and parcel of various social, religious and festive occasions of various tribes and communities of the state.
However, the main point of this write-up is not to discuss apong but to highlight the drugs and alcohol problems the state is facing right now.
Arunachal is currently standing at the fourth position (28%) among the states with the highest prevalence of alcohol use, out which 10% need help for alcoholism-related problems. The state meanwhile tops the list of the states with the highest alcohol consumption by women.
These facts have been revealed in a survey conducted by the union ministry of social justice & empowerment [MSJE]. The survey also reveals a few worrisome facts about drugs use in Arunachal Pradesh. The most disturbing fact is that 8.65% of the children in the age group of 10 to 17 years in Arunachal Pradesh use inhalants, out of which 1.55 percent are dependent users.
There are also around 8500 people who inject drugs.
The survey, which was conducted by the ministry involving its top officers, all the states’ nodal officers, the National Drugs Dependence Treatment Centre of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and investigators from various regional technical agencies, poses many serious questions.
Is the tolerant attitude in Arunachal towards consuming alcohol right? Are not the young people of the state being pushed into a future of uncertainty by the people at the helm of affairs not taking appropriate corrective measures to curb the drugs and alcohol problems? Can the state prosper and progress with a generation of sick people? Is not the government encouraging drinking by making access to liquor easy for people of all age groups by issuing excise licences randomly?
The survey reveals that 75% of the people who wanted to quit drugs reported not receiving any help or treatment, ever. Around 22.18 percent of the people in the state use opioids.
“The treatment gap was more pronounced for alcohol use disorders (86%) as compared to other drug use disorders. Just about one in 37 people affected by alcohol use disorder has received any treatment, ever,” says the survey report.

Need for public awareness
To avail the services provided by the government for rehabilitation of alcohol and drug addicts, mass awareness must be created.
The MSJE is the nodal ministry which addresses issues of prevention and rehabilitation of substance abusers, besides reduction of sources.
The health ministry has established de-addiction centres [DAC] in government hospitals. The DACs of the Northeast states are provided with annual recurring grants for their functioning, besides one-time central financial grant.
There is also a scheme of the MSJE to assist voluntary organizations that work for prevention of alcoholism and drug abuse.
Sadly, no government in Arunachal Pradesh has been seen adopting any concrete policy or measure to address these serious problems, barring the occasional raising of the issue in the assembly by a few legislators.
The state government should be aware of the MSJE’s findings, since the purpose of conducting the survey was to make an assessment of the prevalence and extent of alcohol and drugs use in the country, in order to formulate appropriate policies and programmes.
The state government should, therefore, act, and act now.