The war on drugs

Monday Musing

[ Nellie N Manpoong ]

On 16 July, the state cabinet approved the Policy on Psychoactive Substances 2021-26 to fight the drug menace in Arunachal. The policy, as informed, will base the fight on three pillars of ‘supply reduction, demand reduction, and harm reduction.’

Chief Minister Pema Khandu also took to his Twitter handle to announce: “An all out war on drug abuse. State cabinet in a historic decision today approved the Arunachal Pradesh Policy on Psychoactive Substances 2021-26′ to fight drug menace.”

The state police had been arresting drug peddlers and users across the state even before the policy or declaration of war against drug abuse was made. The announcement, however, has led to intensified efforts and an increase in the number of arrests, with some of the arrested being from the police force itself.

As such, the state government said that stringent action would be taken against government employees who consume any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance, with one-time immunity from prosecution and disciplinary proceedings.

Without clear details of the newly created policy, one cannot help but wonder whether it has been devised keeping in mind the two extremes of drug-control methods used in the Philippines and in Portugal, which are used as examples throughout the world.

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized personal use and possession of all drugs after all methods failed in controlling its use and distribution. The Vice reports that, after the decriminalization, “Portugal in 2015 had the lowest drug-induced deaths in western Europe, which is 10 times lower than the United Kingdom and 50 times lower than the United States. The national health ministry estimates that the number of active heroin addicts has dropped from about 1,00,000 in 2001 to fewer than 25,000.”

On the other hand, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016 declared a war on drugs. Duterte, in several of his speeches, has publicly indicated killing ‘drug lords’. However, reports suggest that it is mostly the low-income level areas that are targeted, human rights activists, lawyers and journalists included. In fact, the International Criminal Court on 14 June sought a full investigation into crimes against humanity, torture and other inhumane acts. Also, in efforts to arrest as many drug users and distributors, a documentary showed how 5,000 men are cramped in a prison in Manila, Philippines, built for just 1,200 people, with only one guard for every 400 inmates.

This raises questions on whether the jails and lockups in Arunachal are equipped to house the numerous drug peddlers and users that are being arrested almost every week throughout the state, apart from other criminals. In early June this year, the Arunachal Pradesh Police (APP) informed that 86 FIRs had been registered and 143 people arrested in connection with drug consumption and trafficking in 2021, which is nearly thrice the number of arrests than last year, when a total of 28 FIRs were registered and 56 people arrested from January to June 2020.

Arrests this year too continue to take place every week and the number is likely to be higher by the end of the year.

The police are doing the job that has been assigned to them – making arrests and keeping a check on illegal drug activities.

Now comes the difficult part of ‘harm reduction’ or rehabilitation.

As per officials, Arunachal currently has seven government-run drug de-addiction centres. These include the ones in Tezu, Pasighat, Khonsa, Lathao, Bordumsa, Hayuliang and Longding – all towards the east of Arunachal – infamous for drug activities.

Approval for another drug de-addiction-cum-rehabilitation centre in Deomali has been recommended to the Centre by the SJETA special secretary.

Though these centres, with their minimal resources, offer some respite to addicts and their families, military strategist Sun Tzu’s quote comes to mind: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

One of the managers of a de-addiction centre had said, “I have seen several young boys who are brought by their families to the centre. We try our best to help them get rid of their addiction and most of them do well at the centres, but then they go back home and start using again. Only those who come here willingly, without any pressure, are the ones who remain clean after leaving. It is difficult to force de-addiction on addicts.”

I am fairly confident that Arunachal would not take a leaf out of the Philippines’ book of an actual ‘war’ on drugs, and it will certainly not decriminalize personal use and possession of drugs like Portugal did because that is for the central government to decide. It can, however, take lessons from other countries and consider the advice of health experts, such as addiction psychiatrists, and of those who actually run and manage drug de-addiction centres.

A war may require force, but most days require a rational approach and this war may require a little compassion, as well.