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When drugs trickle down

  • Published at 06:16 pm September 16th, 2018
A buffet of delights?
A buffet of delights? Photo: MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

To prevent any new drug from spreading, the eye should be at the top

Looking at the history of narcotics in Bangladesh, we find that when society becomes aware of one drug,  another item insidiously enters the market. The trend has been seen several times for a variety of drugs. Sadly, almost always, the initial warnings plus newspaper reports are ignored. 

When Phensidyl, the codeine-based drug syrup, was at the height of its popularity, and was targeted by the police as the major drug, traders quickly found another alternative called Tixi, which also had codeine as the base. 

Just a cough syrup

In a society where alcohol had always been deemed the main villain, the teenage addiction with a cough syrup didn’t raise any alarm bells for at least 10 years, because a person taking Phensidyl hardly created pandemonium or got involved in violence -- the assumed symptoms of alcohol addiction. 

Countless families who eventually realized the devastating side of Phensidyl admitted that, initially, when they found about the drug, they paid no attention since the visible impact did not seem harmful. 

For a long time, the common reaction was: What long-term damage can a cough syrup do? 

By the 90’s, the actual devastation was visible. A whole generation in the northern part of the country, near the Indian border, was destroyed, unable to lead normal lives, becoming brooding zombies.

The truth is that we never managed to win against a cough syrup. Phensidyl is no longer the drug of choice because something more convenient like yaba is available. The syrup had done its share of destruction, and has been slowly edged out. 

When yaba first entered the scene, it was downplayed as a party drug for the affluent. In fact, in the early part of the millennium, this was reportedly used openly at up-market clubs like the Atlantis and Privilege. 

Yaba was never aimed at the low income segment of society -- yet now in 2018, people in shanty towns are its biggest traders and users. By the time the law realized they have a mini monster in their hands, it was already too late. 

The entry of alternatives has started

With the ongoing crackdown on drugs focusing mainly on yaba, alternatives are beginning to enter the country, some appearing to be nothing more than legal high. At the airport recently, a large shipment of what is known as New Psychoactive Substances or NPS, was apprehended and brought to Bangladesh under the false declaration of green tea leaves and green tea powder. 

The shipment in question was caught with the help of a tip off; but in case there isn’t any prior warning, opening all large cartons for inspection is hardly a rational option.

The NPS was sent from Ethiopia. This is possibly the first time a shipment from an African country was opened and checked. It’s only normal for international traders to use routes that have never been used before.

However, looking at the past history of drugs in Bangladesh, a prudent move would be to keep a track of all African nationals coming to Bangladesh.

The majority are players, linked to the many football clubs here. I wouldn’t be surprised if this demand for players from Africa is surreptitiously exploited by unscrupulous agents to establish a narcotics conduit. 

Though yaba is still the preferred drug, pink may not be the colour of the demon anymore.

Several weeks ago, a Bengali paper ran a story saying that since pink small tablets are being searched by law enforcers, the tactic used by manufacturers across the border in Myanmar is to change the colour and the shape of the tablet. 

This ruse, though a very basic one, will manage to hoodwink the law for some time. Therefore, the hunt should not always be for pink tablets only. 

The role of rehabilitation centres in the drug crackdown

Across the country, there are several recovery institutions and they house people who are undergoing treatment. In making the campaign against drugs a success, a link with such institutes is essential. 

Police psychologists can go and talk to the people under treatment to gather vital information about the techniques used by sellers, the selling points, and identity of those involved in the business. Also, it’s essential for the law to understand the subtle non-visible psychological impacts of yaba. This can only be understood through interaction with those staying at recovery homes.

Mind you, the approach has to be friendly, genial, and not coercive by any means. Affable interaction by choice can be more helpful. People under treatment are very sensitive, and have a nature to over-analyze even the smallest probing question.    

New drugs will enter through the top

Following the path of yaba, any new contraband substance that enters Bangladesh may try to follow the “penetrate through the top” formula because if a drug is initially used in rave parties of the well-heeled, the chances of the law stepping in are slim. A sense of impunity granted by affluence can be exploited. 

Yaba followed this strategy to raging success. Starting with the wealthy usually spared police searches or raids, yaba filtered through to the lower segments, finally reaching the masses. 

Yaba also used models, plus renowned people in the glamour industry to disseminate the drug among the educated classes.

That same route can be used once more. Unless the law infiltrates the world of razzmatazz, the up-market network cannot be busted. 

The entry of any new drug will most likely be wrapped in glitz -- the law has to stop being blinded by this façade of flamboyance. 

Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.