As sales spike destroys Mumbai's youth, Meow Meow to be banned soon

Meow Meow looks like cocaine, is 20 times cheaper, more dangerous, and not illegal; with children as young as 14 addicted to it, CM Devendra Fadnavis has asked the Centre to ban it under the Narcotics Act

At 16, Rahul Dubey’s world was his oyster an intelligent student at a prominent south Mumbai school, the son of rich parents, chauffeur-driven cars, and a house overlooking the Arabian Sea in the upmarket Carter Road area of Bandra.

Also read: Why the party drug Meow Meow is so dangerous

Yet, Dubey spent that entire year of 2010 visiting commercial sex workers at Kamathipura, Mumbai’s red-light district, watching online pornography, feeling suicidal, and even assaulting his parents and brother each time they tried to help him. They couldn’t help, no matter how hard they tried.

Rahul Dubey, once an aspiring writer and photographer, began stealing from his parents to pay for his Meow Meow addiction. Pics/Bipin Kokate
Rahul Dubey, once an aspiring writer and photographer, began stealing from his parents to pay for his Meow Meow addiction. Pics/Bipin Kokate

Dubey, now 20, and in a drug rehabilitation programme, was a severe Meow Meow addict. He hallucinated, his sexual urges were uncontrollable, he banged his head on the wall till he bled, and hurt himself badly by hitting mirrors. “I sometimes did not see myself in it, I saw a devil,” he says.

Youngsters in the 14-24 years demographic are Meow Meow addicts, says Dr Yusuf Merchant, from the NGO DAIRRC
Youngsters in the 14-24 years demographic are Meow Meow addicts, says Dr Yusuf Merchant, from the NGO DAIRRC

“It was like I was spiralling down a black hole, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.” He ultimately dropped out of high school, unable to take the pressure. He is not alone. According to doctors, the city police, and narcotics control experts, the consumption of Mephedrone, or Meow Meow, or simply M-Cat, is rising exponentially across Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai, and there is little the government can do to stop it, as its sale is not illegal.

Laxmi Venkat (in cap) says family support has helped her through the rehabilation programme
Laxmi Venkat (in cap) says family support has helped her through the rehabilation programme

In the last year alone, an estimated 30,000 people in Mumbai have become addicted to the drug, and sales are in the range of 600 kg a day (one person usually consumes up to 2 gm a day), according to Mumbai Police sources and rehabilitation experts.

With New Year approaching, authorities expect a spike in Meow Meow sales, something that prompted Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to write a letter to the Centre last week asking for a ban on both Meow Meow and Methamphetamine.

“We have written to the Central government requesting it to include certain drugs (Mephedrone and meth) and its formation in the Schedule II Category 1 of the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act and I assure that this will be done at the earliest,” Fadnavis told mid-day.

The problem, Fadnavis says, is staring at us, and we need to tackle it quickly. In just the last six months Dr Yusuf Merchant, president, Drug Abuse Information Rehabilitation and Research Centre (DAIRRC), says he has admitted 21 new Meow Meow addicts to his rehabilitation centre in Kalyan, on the outskirts of Mumbai.

“Almost all of them are between 17 and 24 years of age,” he says. “Three are women.” At Rs 150-500 per gram depending on where you buy it, Meow Meow is not an expensive drug, as compared to, say, cocaine, which is sold at Rs 3,000 per gram.

Methamphetamine (or meth, or crystal meth), made famous by the multi-award winning American television show Breaking Bad, is available for between Rs 1,500 and Rs 1,800 per gram, and acid LSD is available in microdots, with each dot being sold for up to Rs 600.

Cheap and dangerous
The trouble with Meow Meow, as highlighted by a previous story in mid-day in April this year, is the side effects. Lakshmi Venkat (17) says she would “wander off into another universe” after consuming Meow Meow. Lakshmi started smoking at 13, took to consuming low-cost drugs at 14, and last year, when she was 16, she was introduced to Meow Meow.

In nine months, Lakshmi, who is an Arts student in a well-known college in the Mumbai suburbs, lost 15 kg. “I just couldn’t stop consuming Meow Meow,” she says. “Every time I stopped, I would get irritable, depressed and took to drinking alcohol. And I slept. A lot.” Lakshmi says family support has helped her in the rehabilitation and recovery process.

Lakshmi, who stays in Goregaon with her mother, wouldn’t eat for long stretches, and at one time was living on energy drinks that took her blood sugar to dangerous levels. “Meow Meow is really cheap,” she says.“That is one reason it is spreading like wildfire in the city. Mood swings among addicts are extreme, and many of them have lost all their friends due to this,” she says. “I am really worried for them.”

Dr Merchant says that apart from the physical and psychological effects, Meow Meow has turned perfectly honourable people into thieves. “Teenagers are resorting to stealing from their parents, their relatives, their neighbours, to fund their addiction,” he says. “Unlike in the past where narcotics were sold by your neighbourhood peddler, Meow Meow is now available online. Once the payment is received, it is home-delivered.”

Most narcotics give consumers a “high”, but Mephedrone users experience increased energy and self-confidence, and they become talkative, especially with the opposite sex. Dr Merchant says the sense of euphoria is immense and combined with mental and physical stimulation, there is what is called sensory distortion, or, in other words, the children enter a different universe. “They have uncontrollable craving for the white or off-white powder,” he says. “It is often mistaken for cocaine.”

Dr Merchant says he has written letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and to the Chief Justice of Bombay High Court, seeking their intervention to instruct concerned agencies to issue an unconditional ban on the sale and consumption of Meow Meow. “In the run-up to the New Year, I expect the sale of Meow Meow to triple in Mumbai alone,” he says.

“We simply have to get the drug banned under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act soon. We have disaster staring at our face, and it is hurting our youngsters. Meow Meow abuse is reaching epidemic proportions.” The innocuously named Meow Meow, Dr Merchant says, is “the most terrible drug” he has come across in 33 years of medical and drug rehabilitation practice.

Catching them young
A few years ago, it was Ya Ba which had hit Mumbai’s streets. It was equally destructive, as its most common effect was to keep people awake for days. It has lost its popularity, though, and the supply, which mainly came from Thailand, has been minimal after a series of government crackdowns. Meow Meow, on the other hand, has faced no such action, given its legal status.

The menace of Meow Meow is not restricted to Mumbai. In the satellite city of Navi Mumbai, senior inspector Maya More of APMC police station is part of a law enforcement team that is trying to curb its spread. In November this year, a desperate parent approached her to complain about her 28-year-old son who had been behaving strangely at home and with relatives.

More said the mother described extreme mood swings he would either be aloof or be agitated. He even stopped taking care of his wholesale fruit business at APMC Market. “Initially,” More says, “we thought it was a routine domestic issue.

On the parents’ request, we shadowed him and we realised only then that he had been addicted to Meow Meow.” More, who is used to dealing with robberies, assaults and murders, says she had no idea how to deal with drug addicts, until she researched online on Meow Meow, and realised how it is “one of the most dangerous drugs out there.”

She and her team laid traps for suppliers. “In the last one month, we have arrested eight peddlers and have recovered over 100 gm of Meow Meow,” she says. During the interrogation, the Navi Mumbai Police found that these peddlers were active in Vashi, Koparkhairane, and Nerul, three of the most populated suburbs.

Their customers were mostly school and college kids. “This has us really worried.” Dr Merchant says almost every Meow Meow addict is in the 14-24 years demographic, and the median age is around 18. “Many people in rehab began smoking at age 11,” he says.

'Cool factor'
Rahul Dubey is one such on-the-mend addict who began smoking at a young age. “I began smoking at 11 because I wanted approval from my seniors,” he says. “Soon, I was out drinking with them.” Dubey wanted to be a photographer or a writer.

“I had goals,” he says with a lump in his throat. “I wanted to do something productive. But, by the time I was 14, I was smoking pot. A few years later, I switched to Meow Meow, and my life went into self-destruct mode.” Dubey eventually dropped out of school. He would steal from his parents, and once he even sold his mother’s jewellery to buy contraband. “Before I knew it, I needed about R6,000 - R8,000 a day to sustain my habit,” he says.

Arpan Singh, like Dubey, is 20, and began smoking at 11. The Pedder Road resident is undergoing a strict rehab programme at DAIRRC for Meow Meow addiction. Singh says he was an “excellent student” in school, and is currently a second year BCom student at a leading south Mumbai college. He is also a writer of sorts. So instead of talking to mid-day, he wrote his story.

“As a kid I looked up to my dad. He was a smoker, too, so I was fascinated watching him light up cigarettes, and blow smoke rings. One day, when no one was home, I went to his room and lit a cigarette while looking at the mirror. I was 11, and I remember thinking to myself, “How cool am I!” I had no idea what I was doing, but I was proud of myself.

“One day, some seniors came up to me and asked if I smoked. I said, of course, yes, I do, but they did not believe me, and “taught” me how to smoke. Once I got the hang of it, I got invited to parties and we regularly hung out. Suddenly, from being a kid who played football after his exams, I became a guy who went clubbing and drank alcohol. I was ‘cool’.

“My parents tried to talk me out of it, but I could not stop. One day, my friend from school called me over to his house to hang out with his elder brother and his friends. In the background was his stereo playing Pink Floyd, and they were all high on drugs.

From that day on, my life was all about getting high. Nothing else mattered.” Despite the addiction, Singh ended up getting high grades in his HSC exams and was accepted by a leading college in the city. Once there, his life was about smack (brown sugar or heroin) and other drugs.

“Until then, I had a void inside me,” he writes. “I was devoid of emotions. But these drugs gave me a high, and I f***ing loved it.” Soon, Singh went from brown sugar to Meow Meow. “Money was never a problem,” Singh writes. “My dad, a rich businessman, would just give me his wallet. I would empty it, but he’d never question me.

I often lied to my mother saying I wanted to go shopping for imported branded clothes. She would give me Rs 15,000 at a time. With that money, I would buy cheaper local brands, or from Fashion Street, and spend the rest on Meow Meow.”

Singh says he would stay awake for three to four days at a stretch. “My sexual urge would go be so high that I often locked myself in a room and watched porn for four to five hours.” But once the after-effects of Meow Meow began to take hold, Singh writes, his life went into a downward spiral.

“I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I was paranoid, and I was basically f***ed up. I thought the world was out to get me. I could not communicate with my family, my academics suffered, and my buddies would no longer talk to me. One day, I decided to tell my dad the truth, and thankfully my family supported me.

My life changed for the better once in rehab.” Family support helps a lot, says Lakshmi, from Goregaon. “My family has always been supportive and loving, especially during rehab,” she says. “They have shown trust in everything I do. The only thing that bothers me is whether I will let them down.”

Teenagers take to drugs as a “solution” to facing the exciting but often traumatic years, she says. “I knew drugs were a temporary respite, and would harm me in the long run, but that did not stop me from doing what I did because all I was trying to do was run away from reality.”

Also read: Dangerous new drug 'meow meow' haunts Mumbai youth

But she could not do either. “It (Meow Meow addiction) can be mind-numbing. It destroys everything around you – reality, friendships, relationships, and your family. M-cat is one of the worst drugs available.” (Names have been changed to protect identities)

In the last year alone, an estimated 30,000 people in Mumbai have become addicted to the drug, and sales are in the range of 600 kg a day (one person usually consumes up to 2 gm a day)

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