In Srinagar, a mother’s struggle to help her teenage son overcome heroin addiction is evidence of an insidious drug problem that has affected Jammu and Kashmir.
The boy in question, a Class 9 student living in one of the city’s uptown areas, has been using for eight months – since his neighbor offered a free sample. Once hooked, he began spending massive amounts of money – Rs. 2,000 per gram – to feed the habit.
“I am helpless. Just because of one person the entire neighbourhood has been ruined. My son has been ruined. Police have often detained drugs peddler but they quickly release him. I want to save my son and I think only way is to sell my home and migrate,” she told NDTV.
The boy, a regular at a de-addiction centre in the city, said he wants to overcome the addiction.
“A man called Aijaz from Bemina introduced me to drugs. First he gave me heroine free of cost. He is selling heroine openly and its common knowledge in the area who is selling heroin,” he said.
In Sopore in north Kashmir, a 20-year-old boy also claimed to have been lured by neighbours.
“It’s easily available at Adipora and Behrampore villages. For last one-and-half-years heroin has made entry into Sopore. I had never heard it before. Now I’m taking heroin for last one year,” he said, adding that it was openly sold in markets.
Doctors say they cannot cope with the number of addicts seeking help and that deaths due to heroin overdose are common.
According to a January report by the state government’s Health and Medical Education Department, the number of patients admitted with drug problems rose from 535 in 2016-17 to 710 in 2017-18. The number of patients in Srinagar was 185.
“This kind of addiction has only two paths – people die young or, if they survive, land at psychiatric hospitals. We have not seen a third path,” Dr Arshad Hussain, a professor of psychiatry at Srinagar’s Government Medical College said.
The drug problem is second only to terrorism as the state’s biggest problem, officials say. The biggest challenge comes from across the border, where drug smuggling also funds terror. Drugs worth hundreds of crores have been seized near the Line of Control (LoC) in the past two years.
The smugglers have also infiltrated the police; two policemen were arrested last week for heroin smuggling.
“There is a huge quantity of various drugs – heroin, brown sugar, etc – seized. More than 1,000 have been arrested in the last year,” Dilbagh Singh, DGP of Jammu and Kashmir Police, said, while also issuing a call for help to the local media.
The problem has prompted separatists and religious leaders to join hands. Imams and preachers have come together to mobilise public opinion in a campaign led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Head Preacher of Jamia Masjid in Srinagar.
“We didn’t imagine, to be honest, the scale of this problem. It is not hundreds but thousands of young male and females who have gotten addicted to this substance,” he said, adding that the pulpit of the mosque was an important platform.
“We are going to use our Friday sermons to speak on this issue,” he added.