Crackdown bears hardly any fruit

Tapos Kanti Das | Updated at 01:15am on September 04, 2018

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A member of Rapid Action Battalion stands guard during an operation.-- New Age file photo

No effective move yet to address demand, 226 ‘drug peddlers’ so far killed

The countrywide anti-drug drive for around four months has had hardly any impact — drug abuse goes on as ever and the supply chain remains intact, as demand for drugs and treatment of addicts lie largely unaddressed in Bangladesh.
The supply is still plenty and the addicts are still getting their coveted drugs in Dhaka and elsewhere in the country although the law enforcement agencies are still arresting drug peddlers and addicts and recovering a huge quantity of drugs every day.
‘Drugs are coming in from different places as the peddlers are changing their strategies against the backdrop of drives. But, we have been detecting them, seizing drugs and arresting them (peddlers),’ said Rapid Action Battalion legal and media wing director Mufti Mahmud Khan.
Though there is no survey on the number of drug addicts in the country, Department of Narcotics Control assumes that the country has over 60 lakh addicts.
Though the large scale drive began in the country, there was no increase in the number of patients in the treatment centres, said officials at DNC as well as private treatment centres.
They remain sceptical that the large scale drive will bring any positive change in society as the addicts will remain in society, old peddlers will be replaced by new ones and they will continue to meet the addicts’ demand.
Of different types of drugs, hemp, Yaba, Phensedyl and alcohol are the most used items by the addicts, DNC officials say, adding that Yaba is smuggled in from Myanmar while Phensedyl from India.
Against the backdrop of widespread use of drugs and at the direction of prime minister Sheikh Hasina, Rapid Action Battalion began their nationwide anti-drug drive on May 4 and the police began the drive since May 18.
After the drive began, the first death of drug peddlers in ‘gunfight’ was reported on May 15 and at least 226 ‘drug peddlers’ have so far been killed in ‘gunfights’, mostly with law enforcement agencies, or by their ‘rivals’, according to police accounts.
The law enforcement agencies have arrested over 40,000 suspected drug peddlers and addicts during the drives that also drew criticism for killing suspects in custody without bringing them to justice.
Officials and activists speak of an acute shortage of treatment facilities for drug addicts, both at government and non-government level, while the treatment cost at private treatment centres is so high that a lower middle-class family cannot venture to go there.
The country’s four government drug addiction treatment centres have the capacity of providing residential treatment only for
115 people per month while 262 private treatment centres can provide treatment for 3,110 addicts per month, DNC officials said.
The addicts require a long-time residential treatment and follow-up and at government treatment centres, the course of residential treatment is 28 days while private hospitals provide residential treatment for four to six months.
The government hospitals provide treatment almost for free while private treatment centres charge Tk 30,000 to Tk 60,000 a month in Dhaka, Tk 18,000 to Tk 30,000 a month in Sylhet and Chittagong and Tk 10,000 to Tk 20,000 a month in Khulna and Sylhet.
Neither the government treatment centres nor the private ones have any mechanism to follow up the addicts and it absolutely depends on the patient’s family, officials at DNC and private treatment centres have said.
‘The government is now busy arresting the addicts and peddlers. But they should give importance to their treatment and rehabilitation,’ National Health Rights Movement chairman Professor Rashid-E-Mahbub told New Age.
He also emphasised building anti-drug awareness to combat the menace. ‘The drug supply cannot be contained without addressing the demand side,’ he noted, adding that stopping the supply was crucial.
‘Yes, we think that the treatment facility is much less than we actually need,’ said DNC director general Jamal Uddin Ahmed.
To address the problem, he suggests, the department has taken initiatives to set up eight new treatment centres in eight divisions.
He, however, said that it would take two to four years to implement the projects.
Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said that the anti-drug drives would continue until the menace was contained and none would be spared whoever they were.
He also said that cross-section of people were engaged to create awareness against the drug abuse in a move to motivate the youths.
In the current year, DNC officials said, an average of 78 addicts took treatment per month in the government-run Central Drug Addiction Treatment Centre in Dhaka in four months until April 30 before beginning the drive.
After the drive began, they said, an average of 75 addicts took treatment per month between May and July.
Holey Life managing director M Mainuddin Ahmed in Dhaka, Aim in Life director Faisal Azam Bablu in Sylhet and Unnayan Madakasakta Niramay Kendra manager SM Tazibur Rahman in Khulna said that the number of addicts coming to their hospitals remained almost the same before and after the beginning of the countrywide anti-drug drive.
A number of addicts in Dhaka and elsewhere said that the peddlers mostly went in hiding after beginning the drive and new peddlers were selling drugs with newer strategy.
Earlier, they said, they had to go to different spots to get the drugs but now they were getting it from peddlers after calling over mobile phones and the cost of the drugs have gone up by 50 to 100 per cent.
‘There was not a single day when I needed Yaba or hemp and I did not get them. But it was at higher price in recent months,’ said an addict at Malibagh, who wished not to be named for security reasons.
Two addicts in Khulna, who also preferred anonymity, said they were now buying a bottle of Phensedyl at Tk 1,500 to Tk 1,600 which was Tk 1,000 to Tk 1,200 and a piece of Yaba at around Tk 300 though the price was Tk 150 to Tk 200 a few months ago.
Members of law enforcement agencies said that the drug peddlers were now using newer strategies to supply the drugs to different destinations.
For example, Yaba traders, mainly from Cox’s Bazar, earlier used to bring the drug to Dhaka and elsewhere via different public transports using their men, they said.
But now, they have found that the peddlers have been using courier service or carrying drugs in stomach or using people, usually held in esteem in society such as teachers or imams, as carrier or hidden places in different transports.
A few members of police were also found involved in drug business, they said.