Kerala has the second highest number of cases registered under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, but the real problem may actually be elsewhere.
Between January and June, Kerala registered 1,836 cases under the Act, according to the Home Ministry. But police say that not all drug use in the state falls under the purview of the act.
Kochi DCP Arul Krishna said that a number of substances abused by youngsters are not listed under the Act, making it difficult for the police to penalize them.
"The NDPS Act has a number of limitations and is outdated. Our youth have moved ahead of ganja and hashish and are coming up with new materials and ways to abuse," he says.
Dipin Das, Project coordinator, Dale View Integrated Rehabilitation Centre for Addicts, says that in the past two years, there has been an increase in the number of people seeking help with the use of drugs such as cannabis (which is illegal), and legal drugs such as cough syrup (available over the counter) and sedatives (which require prescriptions). Other easily available substances used to get a high include whitener, paint and nail polish remover.
The popularity of cannabis is both due to prohibition and the cheap prices at which it can be procured. “Cannabis has become the cheaper, more discrete option for youngsters. They can get enough cannabis to use for two days with Rs 50,” he says. It also becomes the preferred method of intoxication as it is harder to detect than alcohol.
He also says that in the past year, there has been an increase in individuals under 25 years of age seeking help with the abuse of intoxicating substances. Most of them are college students, he adds.
“One boy we treated was an 18-year-old from a juvenile observation home who would use up to 15 packets of a glue (used to seal tyre punctures) in a day. He would wake up every hour at night to sniff it,” says Dipin.
Counselling youngsters using glue, cough syrups and the like is tougher for two reasons: their easy availability and a lack of awareness that they can harm the body. “Users don’t believe they are doing anything wrong because these aren’t ‘hard drugs’. But they can affect the body just as badly, especially when it comes to memory and loss of sleep,” he says.
Kerala Excise Commissioner Rishi Raj Singh maintains that they are aware of the problem. They intend to review about 20,000 drug stores in Kerala by Onam and ensure that syrups or tablets aren’t sold without a prescription. But with only 43 drug controllers for the whole state, each official can survey 7-8 drug stores a day. Although progress is slow, licenses of 10 drug stores have already been cancelled, he says.
Another challenge the Excise Department faces is the practice of brewing liquor privately and locally, which has picked up since phased prohibition was introduced. “People will sometimes look for any means to get intoxicated. The practice is rampant in private colonies and communities and even some tribal ones,” he says.
In cases where the police manage to apprehend people possessing drugs, they exploit loopholes in the law.
'Possessing ganja and many other substances, is a non-bailable offense if the quantity possessed is more than a kilogram. This only helps us in nabbing drug rackets and not necessarily youths who possess lesser quantities," says Arul Krishna, Kochi DCP.
With magic mushrooms , the new-found craze, he says there is no scientific method to determine the quantity of the substance, placing them outside the purview of the NDPS act.
As for the rising incidence of drug abuse in the state, Singh says it could be looked at in two ways. “Either you say that drug abuse has increased. But it can also mean that the number of cases being registered and reported has increased,” he says.