[ Junroi Mamai ]
Arunachal Pradesh has been witnessing an increase in the number of HIV positive cases, with a total of 1,122 total positive cases recorded as on 31 March, 2023.
The latest data also shows that, of all the districts of the state, Papum Pare has the highest number of HIV positive cases (477), followed by Namsai (373), Lohit (70), East Siang (46), and Changlang (43).
Apart from sexual transmission, the main cause behind the rise in HIV positive cases in the state is intravenous drug use among the people, especially youths, across genders, experts say.
Unfortunately, drug abuse has become so rampant in our state that most fear that it may soon take the form of a full-blown societal crisis if urgent steps are not initiated to address it. A large number of people, especially youths, in our state are trapped in the clutches of substance abuse.
Concerned over the fact, the government of India launched the Nasha Mukt Bharat Abhiyan (NMBA) on 15 August, 2020 to address the menace of drug addiction. The NMBA was launched by the social justice & empowerment ministry in the 272 districts in the country that are most vulnerable to substance abuse.
Under the Nasha Mukt Bharat Abhiyan, our state government initially mainly focused on completely prohibiting the production and sale of opium. The campaign against opium cultivation and sale saw unprecedented support from the state’s various NGOs, CBOs, women-led organisations and stakeholders.
Following such strong drive against opium, its production and use have either substantially decreased or almost stopped in most parts of the state, especially in Changlang district, within the past few years. However, this has led to the increase in psychotropic substance use among the addicts and subsequent increase in HIV positive cases in Changlang district.
Those who were earlier addicted to opium have now moved on to psychotropic substances, owing to the strict ban on opium use and production. This development is worrisome because, unlike opium, psychotropic drugs are much easier to procure and use. These psychotropic drugs are easily procured from neighbouring adjoining states, with Assam being the main conduit for peddlers. Also, consuming psychotropic drugs is much more harmful than opium consumption.
Opium is clinically less harmful and it is easier to renounce its addiction. Psychotropic drugs on the other hand impact the body more and make it much more susceptible to communicable diseases like Hepatitis B and C, besides HIV infection.
Considering the present state of affairs, the state government should rethink its policy of focusing its attention only on banning poppy cultivation and initiate steps to make the anti-drug laws more stringent. The current laws, like the NDPS Act, only discourage addiction but are ineffective in its control. What the state needs is a serious policy with a vision to ensure that drugs and substance abuse are completely rooted out from our society. For this, the state government needs to involve all stakeholders of the society, including CBOs, in policymaking, and especially focus on village-level meetings and establishment of more counseling, treatment and rehabilitation services.