Thoughts on tackling the menace of drug abuse

Syed Ashraf Ali | Published: June 08, 2018 21:24:47 | Updated: June 10, 2018 21:50:57

Imagine a scenario where, on a fine morning, the people wake up to find that a flat in their locality has suddenly turned into a centre of attraction for the spoiled kids as well as the adults - mostly from neo-rich and poor households. They are desperately seeking their 'spice of life' to earn a trip into their euphoric Sangri-la-an imaginary haven for peace and tranquillity. You are curious but, like a true  risk averting urbanite, do not want to meddle with the affairs of the syndicate that has moved into this new den with a potpourri of  phensidyl, hashish (ganja), heroin and the new fad called yaba, an unsolicited gift, along with over a million Rohingyas, from Myanmar.

You wait for the police to bust the den. After all, you reason, you pay taxes from your hard-earned money for their upkeep and comfort. The police from the nearby 'Model Thana' indeed do pay what later turns out to be courtesy calls on the den. The business continues to flourish nevertheless. The wares the syndicate peddles come with price tags beyond the reach of the addicted kids. Inevitably, they resort to theft, extortion, snatching, kidnapping and other crimes. Organised gangs are formed with curious names like 'molom party' and 'oggyan party'. There are also stories of kids slaying their parents for their refusal to provide money to buy their 'elixir' of life.

This, in a nutshell, is the spectre of drug abuse haunting the nation. In the backdrop of Bangladesh government's recent war on drugs, we can have a brief look at anti-drug initiatives in selected countries.

CHINA: Nobody knows better than the Chinese who endured what is famously known as 'century of humiliation', spreading across nineteenth and twentieth century, at the hands of colonial powers of Britain and Portugal. Driven by the greed fuelled by new-found mercantilist ideals to enrich their coffers through trade, they literally thrust down opium through the throats of the Chinese to earn filthy lucre to buy Chinese porcelain and silk. The Chinese attempts to curb the menace met with stiff resistance from Britain and led to two wars known as Anglo-Chinese opium wars in which the Chinese suffered humiliating defeats.

By the time the Communist Party came to power in 1949, 20 million Chinese were addicted. The new communist government reinforced the existing anti-drug laws with more draconian measures. As a result, the addiction rate plummeted to about 70,000 by 1953. Despite the harsh measures, the menace could not be eliminated altogether. In fact, new opulence in China has seen a resurgence of drug abuse.

PHILIPPINES: No one can rival Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's 'drug war' resulting in the killing of more than 12,000 drug suspects by 2017 and 1,18,000 arrests after he came to power in 2016. He has resisted calls to end his brutal 'drug war,' but as recently as Sunday last asked a United Nation's rights expert to 'go to hell' over the criticism of the Philippines leader for his threat to remove the country's top judge, a critic of Duterte's war on drugs. His popularity rating, in the meantime, soared to 71 per cent in 2017 chiefly on account of the drug war.

COLUMBIA: Columbia is fighting a bloody war since 1990 against mafia groups engaged in production and distribution of cocaine to the locals as well as the drug addicts in the US. Spending a whopping 9.3 billion dollar, the death toll during the three decades escalated to well over 4,50,000. But the country has not yet succeeded to eliminate the menace.

BRAZIL: Brazil is known for football, but the anti-drug war often occupies the centre stage. It began war on drugs in 1970 and by 2014 slain 60,000 people. The drug and the crimes linked to drugs still pose a huge threat to peace.

THAILAND: Thailand's anti-drug initiative was started by its then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2003. A total of 2,800 people were killed during the first three months with 30 killings a day. The campaign still goes on to tame the intractable drug lords.

MALAYSIA: Until October last year, death penalty remained mandatory in Malaysia since 2003 for carrying more than 15 grams of heroin. In 2016, the country carried out nine executions and imposed 36 death sentences. It is also reported to have 1,042 death row inmates, including 413 foreign nationals. From January 2014 to October 2017, a total of 7,02,309 were detained for trafficking and possessing drugs.

MEXICO: Far away in Mexico the story is not different. Estimated death toll in the Mexican Drug War From December 01, 2006 was more than 120,000 by 2013, excluding 27,000 who went missing.

USA: The US spent a king's ransom--$31 billion between 2009 and 2012--on drug control, rehabilitation and anti-drug media campaign. Since 1980, number of people arrested for drug-related offences totalled over 4,00,000. Despite the grandiose anti-drug initiatives, drugs still continue to infiltrate into American homes and on to the streets.

The reports that we receive from around the world suggest that most of the countries have adopted harsh measures like shoot at sight, public humiliation, imprisonment and death penalty to contain drug abuse. In the process, some innocent people have been hurt in 'crossfire' incidents. In a war, there would always be some unintended victims. What is important, however, is to ensure that no innocent people are hurt to settle old scores either by the law enforcers or at the behest of vested quarters and individuals.

Bangladesh has rightly declared a long-awaited crusade against drug peddlers who have destroyed the fine fabric that holds our society together. There would be inevitable outcries from different groups but, as the saying goes, you cannot make the omelette without breaking the egg. Drawing on the experience of drug-infested countries, we would venture to put forward some suggestions to make the ongoing drive more effective and humane.

  • Like Mexico, one or more special teams may be raised with proven record of integrity and competence. A squad of ten honest, well-trained and dedicated members is certainly more effective than a company of hundred ill-trained law enforcers. Our law enforcement agencies have done a wonderful job in curbing terrorism, but war on drug is a different ball game. With so much money flowing across the supply chain, the temptation is too strong for the fallible human beings.
  • Like most countries, the primary targets should be dismantling the supply chain. It appears that the ongoing drive in Bangladesh has succeeded in touching mainly the pawns in the labyrinth of the chessboard of the drug trade while the mandarins feeding the chain by and large remain unscathed.
  • Anti-drug campaigns may be initiated through print and electronic media regarding the harmful effects of drugs. Simultaneously, centres may be established for the rehabilitation of the addicts. A topic highlighting the hazards associated with use of drugs may be incorporated in the school textbooks.
  • A system of neighbourhood voluntary surveillance team comprising local people enjoying unalloyed integrity may be instituted to report local drug users and dealers.
  • Special vigilance teams may be engaged to keep an eye on anti-drug operation to prevent killing or harassment of innocent people.

Syed Ashraf Ali is a retired Executive Director of Bangladesh Bank.

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