According to Sikkim Drug Users Forum, one must support and not punish drug users Credit: EastMojo image

Gangtok: Sikkim for long has been troubled by the issue of drug abuse, drug import, and large scale spread among the youth. On the occasion of International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, Sikkim Drug Users Forum asserted on ‘Support, Don’t Punish’, batting for the decriminalisation of drug-related issues, terming the same as a health issue rather than a criminal or medical issue.

Addressing the media on the occasion, Sikkim Drug Users Forum (SDUF) Coordinator Prashant Sharma claimed that the practice of criminalising is draconian and has not reaped a solution to impeding the growth of drug abuse in the state.

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SDUF is of the perspective that a global war against drug abuse has been fought for over 50 years now, yet the same has not reaped success largely because ‘drug abuse is seen as a criminal offense’. “Society at large and the social justice system see drug users as irrelevant people, who if caught with drugs have to be put behind bars. In the name of a drug-free society, drug users are shamed, harmed, and arrested. Since the implementation of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act in 1985 and as per the Sikkim Anti-Drugs Act of 2006, there has been a reverse outcome leading to moral or idealistic campaign over scientific or human-oriented effort. Government funding is towards criminalizing over harm reduction or treatment,” said Sharma.

SUDF also claimed that the mMinistry of social justice needs to stop on compulsory rehabilitation and favor voluntary rehabilitation, terming the same as a form of violence.

“When it is known that alcohol or tobacco is injurious to health, the same treatment is not considered towards drug abuse. Prohibition on these legal drugs had its implication in the past, but if the same tobacco and alcohol are considered illegal, look where the black marketing for the same would go. The same was evident during the lockdown over coronavirus pandemic when alcohol had its way of being sold despite the ban. Hence, the campaign of being drug-free society has gone wrong, largely due to black marketing of drugs,” added Sharma.

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SUDF asserted how the approach so far has never been on the discussion but jail is the only answer to drug abuse, which SUDF considers to be wrong. “Given the number of cases that come to light on drug abuse, Sikkim may need another jail, as they are thrown to jail and is one of the concerns with most arrests in the State. The Social Justice Department perhaps has never conducted a survey, while they have scientific-based evidence, it needs to include the drug users to counter the menace. There are many countries with evidence that decriminalizing drug use has proved to be a solution,” said Sharma.

SUDF also highlighted how over COVID 19 pandemic, four drug users lost their lives.

“All the four cases were due to withdrawal, the first person died in Namchi prison, as drug users face risk in jail with the lack of health concerns, as I mentioned earlier, we are considered irrelevant. Three others died of suicide. When even the World Health Organization asserts on stopping the criminalization of drug users, we have to be considerate about the same. As in most cases, drug users are treated with a hierarchical approach, with the rich being let go or the issue being swept under the carpet, while the poor are criminalized and stigmatised, but it is a known fact that drug use is evident in all levels of our society.”

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On SADA Act which went through an amendment in 2019, leveled punishment on the basis of categories such as quantity being caught and repeat offenders.

But SUDF asserted that the criminalisation was still not amended while stigma related to drug use and abuse has resulted in more deaths, unemployment, and an adverse effect on the entire family.

“SADA and NDPS are not much different in their approach when the same is health concern why do people need to be thrown to jail. But even with amendment, the concern is not clear. SADA seems blind to the human approach on the fight against drug abuse, we need to have dialogues, bring in experts, and meaningful involvement of people who use drugs, when even with the amendments and the new government in the State, the program and planning do not involve drug users. We are in no way trying to promote drug abuse, but regulated drug use is the solution and the way forward for drug scenario in Sikkim.”

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