This article originally appeared on VICE IN.
From the infectious “zombie” drug Krokodil spreading to new shores to the endless supply of red Mitsubishi pingas popping up, drugs and different ways to trip are riding on a high across the world. And it’s no different in India.
This #WorldDrugDay, the United Nations (UN) released the 2019 World Drug Report and estimates that drug use in India has gone up by 30 percent. And this doesn’t just refer to the occasional hash-rolling, powder-snorting, party favour-popping public. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has found that out of the 271 million drug users globally, at least 35 million have developed drug-related disorders. Around 5 lakh Indians were also interviewed as part of the survey.
The study highlights the increased use of opioids (an umbrella term for drugs ranging from opium and derivatives such as heroin to synthetics like Fentanyl) and higher consumption of cannabis, but what’s still unclear is the root cause of this problem. And so, we reached out to some young Indians and asked them what they think could be possible reasons behind this spike in drug usage in the country.
Mudit, 22, lawyer
VICE: Hey Mudit, why do you think drug usage has gone up in India this year?
Mudit: Being born and brought up in a country like India, which boasts of a population of nearly 1.4 billion, the jobs are fewer than the population that demands them. And this rising unemployment rate, I personally think, is one of the major reasons for increased drug abuse.
Why do you say unemployment is linked to drug abuse?
Unemployment could be one of the reasons, but even people who have a job, are under unreal amounts of stress. So what do they do? Take drugs to decrease the anxiety and experience a sense of euphoria, while others do this to temporarily forget the pain associated with being jobless. Otherwise, they may take drugs to increase productivity and energy so that they’re actually able to sustain themselves at work.
But wouldn’t it be difficult for an unemployed person to afford drugs?
Not really. Especially in places like Delhi and Punjab, there are reports of people buying brown sugar or chitta, which is a kind of heroin. It’s known to be as cheap as Rs 40 and last the whole day. So as dangerous as the situation is, it’s still affordable, making it easier for someone to abuse the drug. That’s why the situation is so scary today.
Kriti, 22, PR professional
VICE: Hey Kriti, how’s it going? What do you personally think is the reason drug usage has increased in our country?
Kriti: The increase is something that has happened globally, so it's not like Indian kids will be protected from it because “sanskaar” (values). Especially with the crisis that Punjab has been facing, I think the way we've tackled the situation as a country is really disappointing. The elders who are approached for advice and guidance just push it under the rug and tell you to not hang out with people who do drugs.
So how do we deal with this situation?
I think the non-acceptance of the issue (of drug abuse) and the refusal to believe that it could literally happen to anyone, is what needs to change. More dialogue, conversation, acceptance and the willingness to rectify it is what's required in India. I don't think marijuana should be classified as a drug. I’m not saying it isn't harmful, but it's certainly not dangerous.
Nahush, 25, businessman
VICE: Why do you think India’s drug numbers are high right now?
Nahush: I believe this trend can be attributed to the growing middle class, as well as the media’s portrayal of drugs. People now have more disposable income and are willing to spend it on newer experiences. I believe the media has a huge role to play in this since most people have access to some sort of streaming platforms that are now showcasing films and TV shows that depict drug use. People see this and want to experience it first-hand.
Do you think the media has normalised using drugs?
I guess smoking weed on-screen is the new smoking cigarettes. Like I watched this movie Chopsticks the other day on Netflix, and the dude was happily smoking doobies. I guess there’s less of a taboo about smoking weed since it’s practically legal in many parts of the world, including the United States.
Simran, 23, businesswoman
VICE: Hello Simran. What do you think has led to the spike in the number of drug users in India?
Simran: We live in a country with so much competition and stress, and our elders feel the need to control as much of our lives as they can. Since a lot of young Indians don’t have the kind of freedom, especially while taking the smaller decisions, than their global counterparts, I think doing drugs becomes an outlet. This is a way for them to let go of the stress in their minds, be free and escape reality for a bit.
So, you think it’s a direct impact of our culture?
Some parts cultural, and some part, it’s the stress of competition and proving oneself. More and more people are jobless or hate what they do, which makes for a lot of very distressed people. In the last year itself, India topped the list of countries with the most depressed people, so that is probably linked to this rise.
Ananya, 22, influencer executive
VICE: Hey Ananya, why do you think India’s drug usage has risen recently?
Ananya: I think there is an increase in the awareness around drugs, which plays a huge role in its increased usage. People are much more aware about its advantages and disadvantages, what the high feels like and how it actually affects you. Some of the credit also goes to the way drug use has been represented in different cultural channels like social media, people travelling, movies, music.
Do you think being more aware helps or hinders the user?
Well, it depends from person to person, and also the purchasing power of the individual. It’s very easy to get addicted to these substances. Another thing that is adding to the same is that it’s easily available everywhere in our country, especially the metropolitan areas.
Sharan, 27, artist manager
VICE: Hey Sharan, what do you think is making more people use drugs these days?
Sharan: It is a mix of the new-found willingness of the youth to seek experiences they were not exposed to before due to mainly lack of information, along with an increasing accessibility to the internet.
And what has the internet go to do with this increased willingness?
The way drug use is shown on streaming platforms such as Netflix and the like has sort of imprinted on the minds of the viewers, to the point that they are willing to try something they have not before.
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