Mizoram, the tiny north-eastern state with a population of barely eight lakh, justifiably prides itself on being the most literate state in the country—having overtaken Kerala in the literacy sweepstakes a couple of years ago. But today, the state faces a situation that’s sent alarm bells ringing among its social and political leaders. The problem: rampant drug abuse among the youth in the age group of 16-33 years. The statistics are scary. Consider this:
Since ’95, 436 people have died of drug abuse in Mizoram. In the first eight months of 2000, 98 such deaths have been reported. The figure is increasing. Of these 436 deaths, only 14 have died due to heroin overdose: the majority have fallen prey to a new killer. It’s called Proxyvon, a painkiller capsule that’s prised open, dissolved in water and then injected for a high. Experts say the contents of two capsules are enough for intoxication, anything beyond that is fatal.
Says Lalzuava, the state excise commissioner, “Due to our bordering Myanmar, you’d have perhaps expected more heroin abuse in Mizoram, but it’s the other way round. heroin is least preferred.” This trend, he says, can be attributed to two reasons. One, heroin coming in from the infamous ‘Golden Triangle’ (Cambodia-Thailand-Laos-Myanmar) merely passes through Mizoram without being offloaded. And secondly, Proxyvon is dirt-cheap as compared to heroin. The painkiller is even available in the black market at Rs 8 or so. In contrast, one gram of heroin costs anything between Rs 800-1,000. The abuse usually begins early: l Jonathan, 23, first took drugs at the age of 11. Today, he’s unable to kick the habit. Both his legs are swollen, with pus and blood seeping through the open wounds; amputation is a possibility.
l Johnny, 21, son of an ips officer, began to experiment with drugs as all his friends were doing so. In the past seven years, attempts by his family and even his own determined effort to kick the habit have failed.
l David, whose parents never married, took to drugs as a means of solace from the daily recriminations at home. He began when he was 12; today, at 25 years of age, he wants to reform himself since he has a wife to look after now.
These are but three examples. Social leaders and even politicians are worried that an entire generation of young Mizos is falling prey to the deadly addiction. Says Zothanpuii, a volunteer in an ngo called Samaritan, “Most young men and women begin to experiment out of curiosity and peer pressure. Once hooked, it’s difficult to give up the habit. Thousands of youngsters have fallen prey to this habit.” Zothanpuii, an M.Sc in human development from the J.D. Birla Institute, Calcutta, decided to come to Mizoram after having trained at a Calcutta-based ngo specialising in treating drug-related problems among youngsters. “After all, these are my people. It’s my duty to help them as far as possible,” she says. She now works as a full-time counsellor at the Aizawl branch of Samaritan, which has its headquarters in Calcutta.
The daycare centre run by Samaritan has at least 15-20 youngsters dropping in everyday. “Most primarily come for abscess management since the wounds inflicted by constant injecting of Proxyvon through infected needles are unmanageable,” says Farooq, former addict, who is now the programme officer at Samaritan’s Mizoram project. “Some, who want to kick the habit, but don’t know how to, come for counselling,” he adds. The daycare centre in fact acts like a commune for the addicts sans the drugs.”We encourage them to come here, talk, exchange ideas and air their inner feelings,” says Zothanpuii.
Experts have identified three main causes for the increasing drug addiction: easy availability of drugs; lack of awareness among parents about addiction and increasingly disturbed family life in urban settings. Others like Farooq see another problem. In Mizoram, there’s nothing that a youngster can do after sundown. There’s no entertainment, no social life and therefore no outlet for youthful energy. “Invariably, the youth take to drugs to kill time.” Another unspoken but potent reason is prohibition in the state. Following intense pressure from the church and other social organisations, Mizoram has been a dry state since ’97. Since alcohol is not officially available, the easiest alternative is to go for Proxyvon, say social activists.
Shalom (Society for hiv/aids and Lifeline Operations in Mizoram), another ngo, also provides a similar place, appropriately called ‘Drop-in Centre.’ Says Chonpuii, a trained counsellor with shalom, “Most of these boys and girls do not know whom to turn to once they get hooked. Our job is to provide them with different alternatives and also show that there is someone to care for them. At the Drop-in Centre, we partly attempt to fulfil that need.”
Indeed, many of the addicts come in with a lot of scepticism during their first visit—primarily to get treated for their wounds. “Gradually, they talk to each other, play music and at least for those three-four hours forget to take the drug,” says Chonpuii. At shalom, deputy director and medical officer, Dr Vanlal Ruata has begun a separate section to treat the abscess wounds of Proxyvon addicts. “We had to appoint two full-time nurses to cope with the increasing number of affected boys and girls,” he says. The Drop-in and the daycare centres are of course not enough, given the magnitude of the problem. They simply can’t handle the pressure. The Presbyterian Church-run hospital at Durtlang, on the outskirts of the town, attempts to fill the gap by treating the more serious cases. The K-ward (K for Khawngaihna, which means ‘grace’) at the hospital is full of addicts who need surgery. Say Dr R. Sanghluna and Dr C. Lalhmingliana, who look after the ward, “The most serious cases are brought here. In some cases, the wounds, due to indiscriminate use of a syringe on all parts of the body, are so severe that some of them lose their limbs.”
If these hospitals and daycare facilities act as cure centres, authorities are now looking at preventive measures too. Says Lalzuava, “The Mizoram Notified Drugs (Control) Bill, 2000, which is likely to be enacted soon, will enable us to book offenders who sell and purchase Proxyvon.” But many feel that just legal measures won’t be sufficient to overcome the problem. The state government, realising the seriousness of the problem, has also taken some steps like constituting a Social Defence and Rehabilitation Board. Says its chairman C. Sangzuala, mla, “Our main aim is to create public awareness against drug abuse and provide information on cure and rehabilitation.” The board, set up in July ’99 has embarked upon a two-pronged strategy: one, to launch an awareness campaign through meetings and posters and two, establish de-addiction centres in various district headquarters of the state.
Sangzuala is determined to make the awareness campaign comprehensive by involving the church, social organisations like the Young Mizo Association and schools.”Unless we make the students and their parents aware of the dangers of drug addiction, there cannot be any permanent solution. Unless these drastic measures are taken, I’m afraid the nucleus of Mizo society will be destroyed,” he says. With an estimated 15,000-20,000 addicts in the state, the challenge to prevent a further deterioration in the situation is indeed a daunting one.