Many species in the animal world are said to be in love with intoxicants. According to researchers, a few of them even make periodic trips to psychedelic addiction. They get their highs from wild plants.
When it comes to man the roots of his craze for addictive objects date back to pre-historic times. Those were chiefly herb-based. The Stone Age man's addiction to intoxicants has already been proved. The older forms of addiction included the smoke from dry, burnt cannabis plants. Some single out opium, an ancient narcotic gained from poppy flowers. Cocaine, extracted from the leaves of coca plant, is also considered one of the early addictive objects. The leaves used to be consumed primarily as part of traditional rituals in the Andes region in South America. The leaf extracts were refined into cocaine in the 19th century. Humans have also tasted alcohol in his early stage of evolution.
The ancient Egyptian people were habituated to drinking wine. And alcohol stayed on as an addictive substance along with other drugs. But the hardened addicts have always preferred opium or cocaine thanks to their psychotropic effects. In the later times, man invented scores synthetic drugs. Since the 1950s, dozens of such drugs have been in use among the addicts around the world. In South Asia, including today's India and Bangladesh, these synthetic drugs were found to be illegally in use among the elite addicts. The drugs included marijuana and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide). But decades later, intravenous or needle-sharing drugs were found to be the most preferable one among the desperate addicts. At the same time, the abuse of morphine abuse staged a roaring comeback. Apart from crippling people physically and mentally, these drugs have brought along with them the nightmare of Hepatitis B.
Owing mainly to a society shaped by the dictates of a centuries-old tradition, drug abuse has almost failed to take strong root in this land. Yet, the fast openings to the outside world in the 1970s have made channels for lots of vicious fads to enter the country. Synthetic drugs like heroin, an analgesic drug derived from morphine, were among them.
As time wore on, abuse of both conventional and psychedelic drugs kept rising in the country alarmingly. However, of late the menacing extent of drug abuse appears to have subsided to some extent. The government with its law enforcement and narcotics authorities has swung into an all-out fight against the malady. This nationwide drive may have had an impact on the scenario. However, it cannot make one conclude that the curse of drug is anywhere near tapering off. The success rate of this campaign, however, is mixed. Busting of drug dens continues with the seizures of assorted types of narcotics. Drug peddlers, manufacturers, smugglers and people running local cartels are being periodically nabbed. At the same time, news about clashes between drug runners and resistance groups keep coming from different parts of the country.
A couple of weeks ago, cross-border drug smugglers swooped on media persons in Teknaf, near Myanmar, in the southern tip of the country. The media team from a private TV channel went there to collect information about their clandestine dealing in 'yaba' tablets. In a show of their seeming invincibility, they attacked the media men with lethal weapons. Two journalists were injured. Unsettling media reports on the increasing strength of drug traders stand in sharp contrast with the successful anti-drug drives. The often-confusing scenario is evidently depressing.
The curse of substance use has been plaguing the country for nearly three decades. It was in the early eighties when the country found itself being overwhelmed with this menace. The period saw the smuggling of the dreadful
cough syrup, popularly called phensidyl, through dozens of channels along the porous India-Bangladesh border. Smugglers from both the countries were involved in the illegal business. At the same time, makeshift factories producing spurious types of the addictive syrup, used normally to fight cough, mushroomed in the border areas. The drug containing codeine was found to be eventually causing premature deaths of many addicts. Cheap, phony syrup has hastened these deaths.
In a span of one-and-half decades, a vast section of the country's youths got hooked to the drug. Apart from those in the large and small cities and towns, male youths in many areas in rural Bangladesh took to phensidyl. At one time, the addiction emerged with a demonic force as it wrought havoc with the prospects and potential of a sizeable section of the urban youths. It was initially limited to college and university students and young job-holders. They belonged to the affluent segments of society. But eventually, youths doing menial work and petty jobs came under the devastating spell of phensidyl. For both the sections, the consequences proved catastrophic. Most of the youths ended up being social dropouts and drifters, while others resorted to criminal activities in order to arrange money for drugs including the dreadful syrup. Many young women from society's upscale strata also began to be addicted to phensidyl. Stunningly, a section of educated housewives in affluent families were found to be caught in the spell of this drug.
Over the last thirty years, the menace of drugs has nearly debilitated a few segments in Bangladesh society. Due to lax monitoring and weak law enforcement coupled with administrative inertia, drug abuse at times turned out to be a national scourge of sorts. This scene was not unique to Bangladesh. Many countries in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have been beset by drug abuse. Sociologists and experts detected a spectre of disastrous proportions in the fast rise in substance use. In the recent few years, much of the substance abuse appears to be practised in great secrecy. This was not the case when the level of dope-taking was quite high, with the youths drinking phensidyl or taking heroin vapour being a common sight in the secluded areas. Thanks to the continued increase in surveillance, drug addiction started becoming something open-secret. Even a couple of years back, open-air drug sessions were a common scene at many places in Dhaka. That drug addicts now find it difficult to get their highs at will makes the general people feel upbeat. But then there are the seemingly inaccessible drug dens across the cities and towns. Moreover, the monstrous yaba tablets, which can be taken without being noticed, have reached the point of overtaking heroin and phensidyl. Containing methamphetamine and caffeine, yaba tablets enable one to keep awake for days. Their psychedelic impact is said to be horrible. As it starts working in the human body, it robs one of the rational thinking capability and all saner human qualities.
Dope-taking appears to be easier in the rural areas. In villages, the presence of law enforcers and the intensity of law enforcement are both low. Many blame this relaxed atmosphere for the fast rise in drug abuse in rural Bangladesh.
Befitting their age-old nature, cities are used to experiencing different kinds of addictions. In the past, a section of people would take cannabis and country liquor as a normal recreation. Unless there were cases of drunkenness and public nuisance, society would grudgingly tolerate the addicts. With the strengthening of the urban governance and enforcement of stringent restrictive laws, many common drugs went underground. The dens eventually became the haunts of criminals and loafers. Compared to the urban areas, our villages remained free of substance addiction for long. Nowadays, almost all types of drugs are available at the populated pockets in villages. With the increase in drug abuse among a section of village youths, the incidence of crimes has seen a concomitant rise. Researches have already identified drug addiction as a major cause of the spurt in rape incidents in villages. The ravages left by drug abuse have prompted international observers to call psychedelic drugs a demon. In view of their destructive capabilities, many anti-drug campaigners compare drug addiction with weapons of mass killing. Although it is a gross overstatement, few can overlook the havoc wrought by drugs in today's communities and societies. In Bangladesh, scores of families have disintegrated due to one or two of their members letting themselves be overtaken by drugs. Hundreds of otherwise potential youths have gone astray upon taking to drug addiction. They later become burdens for the families and the nation. In many cases, long-time drug addiction leads to premature deaths. The drug rehabilitation centres have proved to be mostly ineffectual.
Thanks to ours being a tradition-bound nation, drug addiction has yet to make any destabilising inroads into the country. We lack the affluence that has spoilt youths in many well-heeled societies. Yet temptations are there, i.e. the illegitimate and unwelcome byproducts of openness and globalisation.