The government’s failure to address the most fundamental issues about the drug abuse, including the availability of drugs and treatment of addicts and large-scale anti-drug awareness programmes, has made little impact on the countrywide anti-drug drive over nearly two years in the country.
Experts and rights activists said that arresting drug peddlers and addicts, recovering drugs and frequent killing of peddlers in ‘gunfights’ would bring no result in curbing the drug use and distribution from the society until the government gave a major focus on stopping the demand-side problem to save the country’s young people.
Otherwise, the addicts would continue to find drugs and the supply would remain plenty, though the prices might go up, they said.
They also stressed the need for an effective and functional criminal justice system, increasing low-cost or free treatment and rehabilitation opportunities for the addicts, and strict law enforcement to contain the menace.
The home ministry on February 23 informed a meeting of the parliamentary standing committee on the ministry informed that a total of 26,678 prisoners, or 30 per cent of the total inmates in the country’s jails, were arrested for their alleged involvement in drug-related cases until February 9.
At the meeting, the ministry disclosed that 1,30,681 cases were filed against 1,71,752 drug peddlers by the Department of Narcotics Control in 2019.
The ministry said that the government took an initiative to make the DNC of global standard that would ensure a modern interrogation unit, criminal data management system, detective equipment, mobile tracking, narcotics detecting device and digital forensic lab.
The meeting sources said that Myanmar was using Bangladesh as a route for drug smuggling.
Though there is no survey carried out on the number of drug addicts, the Department of Narcotics Control assumes that there are over 60 lakh addicts in the country.
Officials and activists speak of an acute shortage of treatment facilities for drug addicts, both at government and non-government levels, 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 to 115 people a month while 262 private facilities can treat 3,110 addicts each month, DNC officials said.
A drug addict requires a long-time residential treatment and follow-up and at government treatment centres, where the course of residential treatment is 28 days.
On the other hand, 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 patients and the follow-up treatment absolutely depends on the patient’s family, officials at DNC and private treatment centres said.
Rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra data show that a total of 479 people were killed in ‘gunfights’ in the anti-drug drive until December 2019. The drive began in May 2018.
Police and RAB officials said that drugs were coming in from different places as the peddlers were changing their strategies against the backdrop of the drive.
But, they claimed, they had been detecting them, seizing drugs and arresting the peddlers.
They said that the government was launching programmes to create people’s awareness against drug abuse.
‘Merely a drive of seizing drugs, arresting and killing peddlers will bring no positive result if the demand side is not addressed right now. The government should begin a large-scale campaign encompassing schools, colleges and society in general and take the addicts to rehabilitation centres,’ said Dhaka University criminology assistant professor Umme Wara.
Besides, she said, the government should take initiatives to stop drug smuggling through borders.
DU Psychology associate professor Akib Ul Huque said that the issue should be seen holistically and we needed to start a social movement to address the demand-side of the problem first.
A campaign should be launched to inform the people about the role of individuals, families, peer groups, local communities and teachers of schools and colleges to face the problem and to identify the reasons at the personal level.
He also stressed the need to engage the children in games and sports as well as cultural activities to make them socilise and to prepare them for checking mental pressure and remove undue curiosity.
‘The situation of drug abuse is not changing as the whole criminal justice system, law enforcement and the anti-drug campaign have become dysfunctional,’ rights organisation Odhikar secretary Adilur Rahman Khan told New Age.
He said that the government was not able to involve the common people in the anti-drug campaign as they were ‘unelected’ one and that is why they were not getting any good result.
ASK executive secretary Sheepa Hafiza also stressed the need for enhancing low-cost or free treatment and the rehabilitation opportunities for drug addicts and strict law enforcement to curb the menace.
On February 10, the cabinet approved in principle a draft of the Narcotics Control (Amendment) Bill 2020 as the government backtracked on implementing a provision of the Narcotics Control Act 2018 that required creation of separate tribunals at the district level to deal with drug-related cases with speed and efficiency.
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