The population of India has reached over 1 billion people and is rising. The country is growing at an incredible pace. Its culture, social values, demographics and economy is rapidly changing, and these stresses are having an impact on the people. Some evidence suggests that there is an increasing use of illicit drugs and reported numbers point to over 3 million drug addicts in India. However, the World Health Organization does note that there is significant difficulty in estimating drug usage and addiction rates in the country due to poor bureaucratic processes and census reporting.
Cannabis, heroin, opium and hashish are the most commonly used drugs in India. However, some evidence indicates that there is an increasing prevalence of methamphetamine as well. Drug addiction is a major problem for many families, communities and law enforcement. Massive numbers of addicts are left to be treated by the families as financial costs, available services and lack of appropriate care challenge the country. This is not only the case for drug addicts.
HIV is a significant issue for drug addicts in India with over 2.4 million people infected. This places India as the third-highest country in terms of rate of infection in the world. Injecting drug users making up nearly 10 percent of the affected groups. HIV positive drug users are often violently attacked, discriminated against, rejected by families and communities. Some HIV positive people hide their status due to fears and anxieties about being denied medical care, housing or jobs and this places others at risk. The increasing rate of HIV that spread throughout all communities of India alarmed the government who began on a policy of harm reduction which included needle exchange programs and maintenance therapy.
Cannabis is an incredibly popular and widely used drug in India and is known as ganga, charas or bhang. India has a long history of cannabis use, and the drug is one of the five sacred plants mentioned in the Hindu texts, the Vedas. It is typically associated with the Hindu deity Shiva, who is believed to like the hemp plant. The drug is often smoked or drunk in a beverage at Hindu ceremonies. Cannabis is combined with a mixture of milk or yoghurt and boiled with nuts and spices to make a refreshing beverage. This drink is consumed by many all over the country, especially by labor workers who find the relaxing properties beneficial.
Despite its widespread and accepted use, cannabis is illegal to use and possess in any form. Some figures place regular cannabis users as high as 10 million in India, many of these among the working poor. Many of these heavy users are dependent on the drug and suffer from major health problems including respiratory disorders, memory impairment, mental disturbance, digestive tract problems, major weight loss and problems with sleep.
India is known to be one of the primary consumers of heroin in the world along with China, Pakistan and Iran. India is also the largest grower of licit opium in the world, which is used to make a range of prescription medications including morphine and synthetic opium drugs. The geographical location of India is between two the two largest illicit opium growers, Burma and Afghanistan, and evidence shows that India is used as a major trafficking route between the two. Additionally, law enforcement has an increasing problem of dealing with licit opium being diverted to illegal markets inside of India and being trafficked beyond its borders.
A form of heroin known as brown sugar is commonly used in the country, which is made of a mixture of heroin which typically ranges between 20 to 60 percent purity, and adulterants in the form of chalk, zinc or other chemicals. The drug is popular in India because it is cheap and readily available. However, the purity of the drug is questionable and can increase the risk of overdosing. Additionally, some users suffer serious adverse effects from taking the drug, as the adulterant substances can be toxic. Injecting drug users often suffer from cellulitis or other infections, and respiratory issues are common amongst users who smoke the substance.
Evidence suggests that there is an increasing trend of Indian people using brown sugar heroin across all groups in society, from children as young as 13. It is not just a drug for the wealthy and elite. It is now taken by students and women, and is commonly used in slums, in wealthy enclaves and business people. Heroin is a drug that is easy to take but difficult to overcome. The addictive properties are well documented but access to rehabilitation services and medical treatments are often not available to people in India. This is especially true for those who are from the poor communities. Accurate heroin addiction rates in India are unknown. However, there are over 1 million registered addicts, with estimates suggesting that the actual number may be as high as 5 million.
Methamphetamine is a major problem throughout the world and there are increasing reports of its use in India. The first clandestine methamphetamine laboratory was discovered by law enforcement in 2003, and many more have been found since then. India is a key producer of precursor chemicals for methamphetamine which include ephedrine and chemicals that are used in the processing. The majority of methamphetamine chemicals are trafficked to major manufacturing countries like China, Thailand, Mexico and America.
Methamphetamine use is linked to many serious physical and mental health concerns including violence, paranoia, insomnia, organ damage and brain damage. Amphetamine drugs are often used by the working class poor as a stimulant to help them work harder, for longer and require less food. Using drugs for this purpose is incredibly dangerous and can lead to major problems with families and communities. Not only are they highly addictive but their use can damage motor skills, response times, problem solving skills and cause sexual dysfunction.