Jibran Ahmad, 17, from Indian-administered Kashmir, led a normal life until two years ago when his friends first offered him heroin.
Ahmad (name changed), had been a promising student before developing addiction, which destroyed his life and that of his family.
Ahmad, whose family is from the village of Damhalhanjipora in southern Kashmir, Kulgam district, was in the ninth grade when he first tried the drugs.
âI started using heroin when I was 14. My friends told me that I should try heroin once and I will feel good. They provided it to me for free. I thought that I would try it just once, âAhmad told DW. He is currently being treated in the detoxification ward of the Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (IMHANS) in Srinagar.
Ahmad is just one of the thousands of young Kashmiris who have become addicted to heroin in recent years. Economic stress and a subsequent increase in mental health problems have hit the region, after years of conflict and recent lockdowns linked to the pandemic. Experts say these elements are largely responsible for the rampant spread of heroin addiction among young people in the region.
An experienced Kashmir-based psychiatrist, who declined to be identified, said conflict areas are “breeding grounds for psychiatric problems.”
âThe conflict plays a role in issues like drug addiction, and now it is an alarming problem in Kashmir,â the expert said.
“On average, I see 60 to 70 patients in a separate outpatient drug addiction ward. The rehabilitation centers are always full.”
A rapid downward spiral
Ahmad’s father is a government employee and he has a brother and sister who are also still students.
He has visible scars from injections on his arms and neck, and his mother often sits next to him on the ward complaining of body aches, sleeplessness and fatigue.
âI tried three lines on the second day, and it [a friend] gave it to me again for free. On the third day I bought it [heroin] for 1,000 Indian rupees (â¬ 11, $ 13). Ahmad then dropped out of school.
Due to his addiction, his family suffered financially, emotionally and socially as they were also humiliated and stigmatized for their son’s habit.
âI used to steal my father’s salary through an ATM. Slowly our family life was devastated as well,â he said, adding that he had also started gambling and selling. of the drug itself.
Ahmad said he became violent, started fighting with family members, beat his siblings and smashed items in the house.
“I was breaking everything at home: cups, fans, windows. My grandmother had a fixed deposit of Rs 5,500. I took it from her too. I stole my mother’s jewelry. I stole utensils. at home, âhe said.
Ahmad’s mother, Hajira Bano (name changed), 47, remembers her son as an obedient and kind-hearted child before his addiction, which now grips thousands of young people in torn Kashmir. conflict.
“He used to wash his clothes and dishes. He cooked and cleaned the floor. But these are just memories of the past,” she said.
Kashmir sees upsurge in reports of mental health and substance abuse problems among its young people
A new form of addiction
In the early 1990s, when the separatist insurgency was at its height, drug abuse in Kashmir was mostly limited to medicinal opiates such as morphine and codeine, or sedatives such as benzodiazepines.
In recent years, however, hard street drugs such as heroin have taken hold of young people in the region.
The 10 patients currently admitted to the rehabilitation department of IMHANS, which is associated with Government Medical College in Srinagar, are between 16 and 25 years old. Most of them are addicted to heroin.
Official figures provided by IMHANS show the rapid increase in addiction between 2016-2019. In 2016, only 489 people were treated for drug abuse, in 2017 this number increased to 3,622 and 7,420 in 2019. About 4,000 patients have been treated so far in 2021.
There are several other rehabilitation centers in the area, many of which are run by the area police, which show a similar trend of increasing drug addiction among young people.
Before bringing Ahmad to the hospital, Bano warned him to end his life if he did not seek treatment.
âDue to his addiction, I suffer from depression,â Bano said. She added that dozens of young men like her son have become drug addicts in their village.
âThere are a lot of drug dealers, including women, and they are ruining the lives of our children,â she said. “We want to end this.”
The influence of “narcoterrorism”
Officials in the town of Kupwara, in northern Kashmir, told DW that drug addiction is on the rise as “huge amounts of heroin” are imported from Pakistan.
“This is mainly to make young people addicted here. It is also done as part of a narcoterrorism plan to generate money, which is used to fund activism,” a senior police official told DW.
Another young Kashmiri, from the village of Marat in Handawara, near the Line of Control, which divides the territory between India and Pakistan, said drugs like heroin are very easy to find in the area.
Hussain, 20, dropped out of school three years ago and started working in construction because his family could not afford to pay for his education.
Once, upon returning from work, Hussain collapsed on the floor.
“We saw some strange habits in him. He had become weak. He was throwing up food, we thought he was sick until our neighbor informed us that he is a drug addict,” the mother told DW. from Hussain, Shahzada (name changed).
âI used to use cannabis first, then my friends told me to try heroin because it would do me good. It is readily available in our district as long as you have the money. “said Hussain. “I would spend at least 2,000 rupees a day even if I didn’t have that money.”
Her addiction has taken its toll on her entire family.
âMy husband is a worker and he only earns 400 to 500 a day. My son beats us and takes this money, âShahzada said. âHe stole the cattle that were our source of income. He stole phones, he took everything he could.
An increase in psychiatric problems
Experts say an increase in mental health problems is responsible for the growing scourge of drug addiction in Kashmir. Reports of mental health issues have increased exponentially due to foreclosure measures implemented in recent years as residents have experienced significant financial stress as the economy has been hit hard each time.
Dr Farishta Khursheed, who works at IMHANS, told DW that many young people also use drugs “because of peer pressure”.
âBut we also ask: How did they meet such people? “
“Some have problems at home. Some have relationship problems or suicidal tendencies, some have suffered economic losses. In most cases, heroin is present,” she said.