Drug abuse among Mumbai's youth: A price too 'high'

Jul 19, 2013, 11:36 IST | Soma Das

On July 13, Cory Montieth, the 31-year-old star of popular TV musical Glee, was found dead after an overdose of heroin and alcohol. Soma Das spoke to experts across the city to find out about the rampancy of drug abuse among Mumbai's youth and what can be done to stem the tide

Among the many patients that frequent Masina Hospital’s Rehabilitation Centre in Byculla is a 21-year-old who has been battling drug addiction, more specifically with marijuana, since she was 18. She had joined an engineering college and dropped out. Later, she took up a job, quit it and ran away from home. The police located her in Bengaluru. She was enrolled for rehabilitation and has been undergoing treatment for three weeks. 

The psychiatrists treating her are often stumped when she justifies her addiction to marijuana saying that it’s good for her. Alarmingly, she is one among the many young patients who are battling drug addiction. While the addiction can prove fatal (as in the case of Glee star Cory Montieth who succumbed to his addiction on July 13 from a heroin and alcohol overdose), youngsters underestimate its threat.

Dr Yusuf Matcheswalla, Founder and Head of the Psychiatry Department at Masina Hospital and Head of Psychiatric Unit at GP Hospital, reminisces that in the 1980s, when he began pursuing psychiatry, there was an onslaught of addictive substances such as charas and brown sugar. The average age of patients was 14. “There was a major ‘drug phobia’. The habit develops among teens; hence, there was a need for preventive programmes to stop children from experimenting with drugs,” he recalls.

Rehab road
It led him to approach the Masina Hospital who agreed to set up a rehabilitation centre within their premises in 2002 with 20 beds and qualified staff where patients are kept for three months during which they undergo physical, psychological and neurological treatment as well as yoga and occupational therapy. It requires a proper follow-up or else, a relapse can occur.

Prior to this, the Gokuldas Tejpal (GT) Hospital near Crawford Market, started a de-addiction centre in 1997 where patients, especially from the economically disadvantaged strata were admitted for a month, for treatment. While there are several rehab centres, especially on the city’s outskirts, occasionally, ex-addicts man these centres that lack qualified staff. At times, they make patients work on the premises too.

Hooked up for life
“While a large chunk of homeless youngsters are addicted to sniffing glue, petrol and other substances, upwardly mobile youth prefer brown sugar, cannabis and cocaine,” says Dr Matcheswalla, adding that a lot of harm is caused due to a misconception that since it is legal in some countries, cannabis is less harmful. Cannabis is more harmful because it can lead to psychosis and makes the person lose touch with reality.

Dr Yusuf Merchant, President of the Drug Abuse Information Rehabilitation and Research Centre, which runs a year-long Behaviour Disorder Modification programme at Kalyan, says that youth are a high-risk segment. Heroin is slowly being phased out, as cannabis and cocaine are more popular. Dr Merchant has been treating drug addicts for over 30 years and says that it might start from 15 years or even younger. “Cocaine and prescription medicines have fewer withdrawal symptoms that make users believe that they are not ‘hooked’, and that it’s recreational. It’s a big myth. Youth should be made aware of the dangers as often, they don’t realise that they have a choice to refuse it.”

Societal churn
Dr Sarala Bijapurkar, Retired Associate Professor (Sociology), KJ Somaiya College of Arts and Commerce, says that causes can include family pressure for academic performance or it might be an escape routes from the conflicts within families: “Peer groups are also responsible for youth experimenting with drugs. Societal expectations are many and at times, familial bonds are weak. Such youth turn towards peers to escape aggressive parents. Parents need to relate, listen and understand their children.”

Dr Merchant says that lately, more women are doing drugs: “Earlier, the ratio was 1:10. Now, it’s almost 1:3. A lot of it is due to the social status associated with cocaine as opposed to heroine, considered as a social stigma. It’s also peer pressure; seniors at work may be taking drugs and juniors emulate them. Celebrities inhale abuse drugs that also make it more acceptable. Social status, notwithstanding, people neglect to realise that drug abuse causes brain damage in the long run, and a mixture of cocaine and alcohol can be fatal.”

A joint approach
Dr Matcheswalla blames drug abuse among youth on peer groups and lifestyle. “Spending capacity has increased manifold. Parenting modes have changed: parents with double income have less time to monitor kids. They give in to demands of money and realise too late about their kids’ addiction. It’s also due to easy access and an acceptability that is given to drugs; it has become a must-have at parties. With cannabis, it’s cheap and many people can share a joint.”

Dr Merchant admits that awareness is higher, and more patients approach rehab centres. “Also, symptoms are more familiar, and hence, picked up faster by alert parents. Anti-narcotic laws are also in place but effective implementation is what is lacking,” he says.

24/7 Crisis Prevention Helpline
Call: 64537070
Drug Abuse Information Rehabilitation and Research Centre
Call: 9821884813 / 2269 1484
Kripa Foundation
Call: 26405405
Forum Against Drugs
Call: 22045441

Let the numbers speak
Sr Type of No of cases Worth in
no Drug registered Rupees
1. Heroin 3 2,55,000
2. Charas 24 1,35,94,000
3. Cocaine 16 5,49,000
4. Ganja 7 16,00,071
(Information: ACP DD Kale, Anti-Narcotics Cell, Mumbai Police, as of July 15, 2013) 

Gone too soon
31-year-old Glee star Cory Montieth was found dead in his Vancouver hotel room on July 13 from a heroin and alcohol overdose. Montieth was undergoing treatment for his drug addiction in April. He was treated for drug abuse since he was 19 and reportedly confessed that he consumed “anything and everything” and felt “lucky to be alive”. pic/ afp

Drug Abuse

Who is prone?
> People suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD)
> Introverts, extremely sensitive people
> Dropouts
> People looking to experiment
> People who faced trauma in childhood

> Uncontrolled mood swings
> Drop in attendance to school / work
> Agitation, lack of motivation
> Sudden hyperactivity
> Paranoia

Side effects
> Brain damage which can affect long-term ability to think, decide and control behaviour.
> It creates a dependence on it; the person may underestimate amounts of consumption, which can be fatal.
> HIV due to sharing syringes, promiscuity
> Lower immunity
> Criminal behaviour 

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