By Shah Abbas
Srinagar, India, Oct 20 (efe-epa).- Drug abuse, particularly of heroin, is on the rise in disputed Kashmir thanks to a long-running separatist conflict that has made those opposed to Indian rule vulnerable amid an alleged Pakistan-based trafficking ring to finance the insurgency.
“Our lives have become hell due to continuous police raids,” a 23-year-old addict, who requested anonymity, told EFE.
He said he was using heroin to escape the mental agony of everyday life in Indian Kashmir.
“We are just trying to overcome the mental pressure by using the stuff,” said the man, a native of Srinagar, the largest city of one of the most militarized regions in the world.
He and a friend of his, also an addict, alleged that police summon them frequently since there are two cases registered them for participating in anti-India protests, a frequent occurrence that often turns violent with stone-throwing in the Muslim-majority region.
The disputed Kashmir region, whose sovereignty is disputed by Pakistan, has been battling an armed rebellion for independence from India, a popular movement designated as terrorism by New Delhi.
Security forces allege that the Kashmir insurgency and drug trafficking have an intimate association.
Another addict, also a resident of Srinagar, told EFE that drugs are easier available than ever, with heroin, in particular, costing 2,500 and 3,000 rupees a gram (between $35 and $40).
“We used to get marijuana, opium and other narcotics form south Kashmir. But now it is all over in Srinagar as well,” he said.
Experts suggest that the number of heroin users, mostly young people, has been increasing as more and more addicts of the substance visit detoxification centers.
Drug addiction is not new in the region, given the decades of conflict and its toll on the mental health of the people.
But traditionally, the most widely used substances were cannabis or poppy.
“Earlier, we used to receive 10 addicts at our center and only one or two used to be on heroin. But, now if we receive 10 people, almost nine are on heroin,” Muzaffar Khan, who heads the drug deaddiction and counseling center in Srinagar, told EFE.
Some 70,000 addicts were using various substances in Kashmir in 2014, according to data from the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP).
A report by the All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences released in February 2019 said some there were 600,000 drug addicts in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir – now divided into two centrally-governed territories by the Indian government last year.
The SMHS hospital, one of the main government-run health facilities in Srinagar, received 450 drug addict patients between April 2016 and March 2017.
A year later, the figure rose to around 3,500 and further spiked to over 5,000 in 2019.
“A large number of the addicts was of heroin users and aged between 15 to 30,” a doctor at SHMS hospital, wishing anonymity, told EFE.
However, experts say that the figures were grossly under-reported and the actual number of drug addicts was much higher in the valley.