Kohima: Drug menace in the state of Nagaland has been a major concern, especially along the areas that share borders with Assam. Although the state government had sealed all Inter-state borders, allowing only movements of essential goods vehicles due to the outbreak of novel coronavirus, drug suppliers from across the state borders have been managing to find their way into the state, raising serious concerns.
Wokha district that shares state borders with Assam has been battling drug menace for a long time now. The state’s health and family welfare department projected the number of injecting drug users in the state at around 19,000, out of which around 1,300 are from Wokha district. Although drug use is not a new issue, the threat posed by the users due to the global COVID-19 pandemic has attracted the attention of the state government.
While the entire border stretch under Wokha district falls under Bhandari subdivision, additional deputy commissioner (ADC) Tiameren Chang told EastMojo that over 30 villages around 115 km along the border at Wokha shares boundary with Assam, of which some villages under both states fall under the Disputed Area Belt (DAB).
As team EastMojo visited Bhandari, a 50-year-old man who has been battling drug use for the past 21 years, recalled how he was introduced to drugs during his Class X examination. “I took a gap of three years when my wife was alive. But as I was left alone with my children, I started to use (drugs) again. When my children grew older and were able to stand on their own, I joined my friends and began using drugs,” he said.
When Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) was introduced in Bhandari, the 50-year-old man became the first in the area to receive the treatment as he was determined to overcome drug abuse. “It was inaugurated on July 2, 2004 and I took admission there on July 4 and I was under OST for three years,” he recalled.
He has been struggling to overcome his urge to take drugs for 21 years now. Although it has been difficult, he is determined to overcome it since he understands that drug abuse has done more damage to him than providing a temporary state of trance.
“I was in the 10th standard when I started using drugs. It was when I stayed with my friends in Wokha during the examination time. It is 21 years since I’ve been using drugs. I took a gap of three years when my wife was alive. But as I was left alone with my children, I started using drugs again” he said further adding that when his children grew older, he managed to find more time for himself and began using drugs again.
He recalled: “When I first took drugs, I felt happy for about a year. I used to ask money from my parents to buy it and they had no idea about it. But after one-two years, they got to know about it as I was spending so much of money. Initially, I used to ask for Rs 1000 but the demand grew to Rs 5000-6000 and gradually my family got to know that I was into drugs”.
Left with “no choice”, he said that he began to sell his belongings at cheap prices to “satisfy” his “addiction”. As he been under OST treatment for years now with the urge to completely overcome the dependence on drugs, he told EastMojo that he wishes to influence active users to avoid using drugs through his experiences.
Like him, a 28-year-old woman from Merapani village has also been battling drug abuse for eight years now. But her dependence on drugs has caused a rift with her family. “I took drugs but my husband did not know about it. After his death, I was in a lot of stress about how I will have to look after my children. His family was not in a position to look after us, since they were also very poor,” she said.
“I was stressed. As a daily wage earner, I had to look after my children all by myself” she said. “Today I will be in a lot of stress; the next day it will be another tension. So I wanted to be like others without any tension and had it (drugs) so that even if I work, I would not realize it. Even if I am at home, I would have it and go crazy and pretend like I am happy even if my friends are around. That’s how I started taking it” she added. Further, she added “Even as I go to sleep, I realized that I have done a big mistake”.
Among the most affected by drugs is Wokha, a district that shares state borders with Assam. Team EastMojo travelled to Wokha to find more details about what drives the drug menace in the district. The Nagaland-Assam border has been in dispute for decades as there is no specific demarcation as villages of both states fall within the Disputed Area Belt. Under Wokha district, the Merapani village, also known as Maratchu village shares its geography with the Merapani town in Assam.
Due to the porous borders, the job became easier for drug smugglers. Drug along this stretch of the border is brought through various routes–however, the main routes are Mekirang, Yangru river and Bhandari bridge.
“For Wokha district, all users come and take it from here in Bhandari, some from Dimapur. Bhandari is one main centre since it borders Assam with Merapani, Golaghat, and most supply comes from Assam. For Wokha district, I have also supplied for 5-6 years and I was also the main wholesaler. During those times, as I was living a luxurious life, and since it involves money, the big shots also could not say anything to me. Even if the police come, I used to bribe them with money if they get hold of my supplies,” the 50-year-old said.
Drug abuse continued to be a menace along Bhandari sub-division in Wokha even during the nationwide lockdown. Although the state borders were sealed, attempts to smuggle drugs across state borders were still reported. Two personnel of Assam police were also caught from this area while trying to smuggle drugs to Nagaland.
Tiameren Chang Additional Deputy Commissioner of Bhandari sub-division revealed how drug users posed as a threat along the border. “Initially we had a tough time during the lockdown period. As we sealed the boundary, we encountered some drug smugglers who would smuggle from Assam and come back and so we implemented strict laws which is why we could hold off about 4-5 smugglers and kept them in quarantine after which those activities decreased and I now believe the consumption and sale has decreased,” he said.
The recent cases managed to draw the attention of the state government towards Bhandari the bordering areas. Speaking with EastMojo Mmhonlumo Kikon, legislator from Bhandari constituency mentioned that the state government has shown a positive approach towards tackling the problem.
“When we asked the directorate, we also received certain numbers that have been submitted by the NGOs working in Bhandari subdivision and Sanis Sub-division. We asked around so that we could monitor and give proper support and enable those working in the frontline and ensure that proper treatment is given” he said.
Kikon added: “In the process, I also received certain complaints about the numbers, for instances some villages had high number of drug users which was submitted by the NGOs working there. When the village council complaint that they have only few and the numbers have been inflated, so, whether it is highly inflated or under-reported the issue is that we will not be able to find the number properly. This is an exercise we realised which has to be carried out in proper coordination with village council, NGOs and the directorate of Health & Family Welfare”.
Meanwhile, Chang also revealed how the village council and civil societies have joined hands to fight the menace. “With this lockdown, the administration also faced difficulties but with the help of the village council and civil societies we were able to maintain this lockdown as the entire boundary is sealed and even essential commodities are not allowed”.
He added that initially the villages were not aware of the lockdown but are now performing well by forming village COVID-19 Task Force and setting up quarantine centres. “They also guard their own villages gates 24×7. So, that is how we are dealing with lockdown,” they added.
Drug abuse is not a new issue for the area and the medical department and several NGOs have been dealing with itfor years now and have witness a dip in the cases of drug abuse. However, there are still a large number of people who are yet to come out for treatment.
David, the programme manager of Bethesda Youth Welfare Centre, an NGO working for the drug user community for nealy 30 years said, “With the intervention of the NGO, there is slight reduction in the use of drugs. They are now sensitized about the various problems related to using drugs not only HIV but also other blood related diseases which and be contaminated by using syringes”.
“The drug users are now aware of the disease and effects of drugs but there are still hidden drug users and it is difficult for us to deal with. There have been a lot of activities from the NGO like advocacies and awareness camps. We do not have much problem but they still do not know the real effect of the drug users’ community. One user always has peers, and we have been trying to find the hidden users,” he added.
Dr Chumdemo Ngullie, who is posted at the OST Centre, CHC Bhandari said “The problem we face is that is we solely depends on Bethesda to get clients”. He said that the community health centre is reliant on the NGO to “convince the drug users to take medications”. He then said that currently there are 107 active clients.
Speaking about the community response in the area, he said “Now they are developing positive attitude. Initially when we came, we held awareness… We sensitized them that it is just a disease. Drug addiction is also a disease which can be cured and family support is very essential and they have been supportive”.