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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Bangladesh’s drug problem is deep-rooted

  • Drugs available for centuries are opium, alcohol, cannabis
  • Popular new drugs include Yaba, ICE, LSD
  • Myanmar is now world’s largest opium producer
Update : 03 Mar 2024, 08:00 AM

Over the past four decades, Bangladesh has been alarmed by the rise of new synthetic drugs, the number of drug addicts among adolescents and young women, drug smuggling, drug-related crimes, substandard rehabilitation centres, and lax monitoring and enforcement of laws.

During this period, successive governments have formulated new laws and modernized some age-old laws, increased border patrols and security at ports, and engaged with neighbouring countries as well as developed countries for a long-term and effective solution to the menace, but all efforts seem to have gone in vain.

According to the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC) and the police, there are currently over a dozen psychotropic substances causing problems throughout the nation. The common drugs that are being seized by different agencies include cocaine, LSD, crystal meth (ICE), DMT, MDMA, magic mushrooms, yaba (amphetamine), heroin, opium-ridden phensedyl (codeine), unauthorized alcohol, ganja (cannabis), injectable drugs (buprenorphine), glue, etc.

Authorities argue that, despite not being a drug-producing country, Bangladesh is vulnerable because of the close proximity of international narcotics-producing and smuggling zones like the Golden Crescent—consisting of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran; the Golden Triangle—comprising Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand; the Golden Wedge, which includes the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh; and Nepal and a part of Bhutan.

Heroin, yaba, injectables, ice_collected

Other reasons behind the unswerving spread of drugs include rapid urbanization, use of the internet and IT, lack of school education and social awareness against drugs, lax enforcement of laws and corruption in regulatory institutions, etc.

Cannabis, heroin, phensedyl, buprenorphine injection, and tapentadol tablets enter the country from India; yaba and ICE from Myanmar; and cocaine and LSD from South America and Europe. Apart from Bangladesh, glue-sniffing is a common problem among street children in Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia, Pakistan, India, and the Philippines.

Long history of production, consumption

In the seventeenth century, the Mughal dynasty started cross-border trade, exporting opium to China. After the East India Company conquered Bengal in 1757, they increased opium exports to China by 500%, from 15 tons per year to 75 tons.

During the ninth century, Arabian sailors and traders brought opium to Bangladesh primarily as a medicine and healing substance. Its medicinal properties were clearly known in the 13th century. It was not until the 15th century that Persia and India started to consume opium for euphoric purposes.

Its consumption started changing from medicinal to recreational purposes during the 17th century in Bengal. It became a threat when people started smoking it as a mix of tobacco and opium; Afim became a key tool of recreation.

Cannabis has been traditionally used in this country since the prehistoric period. The Hindu God Shiva is legendary for His inclination towards ganja and bhang. Saints of this country had been using Ganja from time immemorial. It is sourced from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Tripura, and Manipur through Kurigram, Comilla, and Brahmanbaria.

opium factory in patna, india_collected

It is said that addiction to drugs among adventurous teenagers and adults begins with smoking cigarettes and then cannabis.

Winemaking had existed throughout most of the history of this subcontinent but was particularly encouraged during the time of the Portuguese and British colonization of the subcontinent.

Apart from establishing a distillery and introducing trading in opium and cannabis, the British Indian Government formulated the Bengal Excise Act, 1909, and established the Bengal Excise Department to control cannabis and alcohol production along with their opium trade, with a view to earning revenue from them.

Bhang_eaters

The British also passed other legislation, including the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1930, the Opium Smoking Act of 1933, and the Dangerous Drugs Rules of 1938, to ensure and regulate revenue collection from drugs. Prevention and control measures were byproducts of these laws and applicable only to the illicit production and trade of drugs, which were again a means to ensure an undisturbed flow of revenue.

Hemp Drug Shop in Khandesh

 

New trends: From 1970 till date 

The demand for cannabis, opium, and alcohol did not change significantly until 1970, when Mritasanjibani Shura, an Ayurvedic health tonic containing 42% proof spirit, became popular. In 1984, the government banned the production, trade, and consumption of Mritasanjibani Shura and the trade and consumption of opium.

Earlier, Bangladesh formulated the Drug Ordinance in 1982, imposing a ban on some health tonics containing alcohol, alcohol-made homoeopathic medicines, and injurious drugs containing narcotics, sedatives, hypnotics, and tranquillizers, which were being largely abused at the time.

The elimination of the cannabis cultivation system in 1987 and the imposition of a ban on the production, trade, and consumption of cannabis in 1989 were other important measures taken by the government for the prevention of cannabis abuse in the country.

A few years later, another drug—codeine-based phensedyl syrup from India—was trafficked into Bangladesh and soon became popular in urban and rural areas. It was the most prevalent drug until 2000, alongside heroin. The synthetic drug yaba entered from Myanmar and injectables from India around the same time and became popular, surpassing heroin and phensedyl.

While the media often focused on small-time dealers and destitute addicts, others pointed fingers at the relatively affluent, including college females. During that time, it was reported that female university students were increasingly engaging in opportunistic sex work to finance their drug habits and live fashionably. Those women were negatively influenced by female flatmates or male students.

 An alarming shift

Law enforcement officials busted the first meth lab in Bangladesh in Dhaka’s Jigatola in 2018. Three years later, police arrested three private university students in possession of 200 LSD blotting papers.

In January this year, the DNC seized 8.3 kilograms of cocaine, the largest consignment seized in Bangladesh’s history since 2013, from the capital's Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.

Methamphetamine pills, or yaba, are the most frequently used and widely seized amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) in Bangladesh, with significant seizures since 2008. This crazy medicine is a cheap, potent, and highly addictive synthetic drug. Most of the Yaba labs are located in Shan and Kachin states along the Myanmar-China border.

ICE_collected

In 2018, the Narcotics Control Act was amended with a provision for a death sentence or life-term imprisonment as punishment for producing, trading, and using 200 grams or more of Yaba or more than 25 grams of heroin and cocaine.

In December last year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said Myanmar is now the world’s largest opium producer, surpassing Afghanistan, where the Taliban imposed a ban on its production in April last year, leading to a 95% fall in cultivation.

The area under opium cultivation in 2023 is estimated to have been 47,100 hectares, up from 40,100 the previous year, while the corresponding yield is estimated to have been 1,080 tons, or 36% higher than the 2022 estimate.

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