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Emotions gripped Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital on 9 July 2019; however, anguish presided over the wails this time. A fight had broken inside the corridor of Drug De-addiction Centre, situated on the first floor of the psychiatry division of the hospital, between two drug addicts and their families had joined in.

“He brought in charas (hash) and smoked inside the ward for a whole night,” said a family member of Abid Parray, a drug-addict admitted in the hospital. “When my brother (Mr. Parray) questioned him about his conduct, he misbehaved and ensued a fight.”

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Refuting the influx of drugs inside the hospital, one of the hospital nurses said, “It was a fight between two addicts after they got into an argument.” She believes that this behavior is nothing but withdrawal symptoms. “The cognitive ability lessens once a person induces drugs,” she said. “When there is an argument, the lack of reasoning leads to such things.”

With indistinguishable shouting, torn shirts and fisting blows taking over the ward, the chaos inside the drug de-addiction ward resembled that of a fight club. “You just give me the phone,” Mr. Parray worriedly asked me. “I will call the superintendent of police.” Amid fatal threats and power-display, the guards in the corridor laughed.

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Drug de-addiction center in Srinagar’s SMHS Hospital. Photograph by Vikar Syed for The Kashmir Walla.

“Just to feel high”

Kashmir Valley has been coming across as another region riddled with drug-menace. The recent death of a young boy inside a toilet in Downtown, Srinagar, only exposed the underlying menace. Mirwaiz Kashmir, Molvi Umar Farooq set the precedent by firmly standing against drug-addiction in his speech in Jamia Masjid, Downtown and talked about its effect on people. 

In a meeting last month, Amit Shah, Union Home Minister, proposed a policy formulation to tackle drug-menace in the Valley and Punjab alike. This was followed by a massive crackdown on drug peddlers, frequent arrests and seizure of drugs.

According to official figures given by SMHS hospital, in 2018-19, at least 46,000 patients were treated at the SMHS hospital alone, for one or the other drug addiction, while more than 12,000 were treated via Outdoor Patients Department (OPD). 

In addition to it, there has also been a steep rise in the number of heroin addicts in the Valley; the official records of the Department of Psychiatry at SMHS hospital reveals that out of 342 people admitted in the hospital for substance abuse from 1 January 2019 to 20 June 2019, at least 309, that is 90.3 percent, were abusing heroin in “some or the other form”.

Meanwhile, the Valley is running wild over the rampage. A former drug addict, Adil Hameed, twenty-five, believes that the cure lies within the drug addict and a fellowship—what he calls his oxygen—Narcotics Anonymous (NA). “If I don’t follow it,” he said. “I will fall back to drugs and the life of misery.”

NA, founded in California in 1953, is a non-profit fellowship or society of women and men, for whom drugs have become a major problem. In 1954, its first publication, Little Brown Book, contained a list of twelve steps, to help people tackle substance abuse issues.

On 9 July, standing next to me in the corridor of the de-addiction center, carrying a backpack and sporting a tattoo, One Love, on his right arm, Mr. Hamid could not help on seeing the fight but jog through his memories of hell, “This is what heroin does to you,” he said. “It leaves you broken and angry.”

Now a tall and husky man, Mr. Hameed first encountered drugs at the age of seventeen in 2012, “I tried a shot at the cannabis,” he said. “Just to feel high.”

Once a boy who wouldn’t miss a single prayer in a day, he went on to live through years of mayhem and agony during his college days, pursuing Bachelor of Business Administration in Noida, Uttar Pradesh. “I started with cannabis, a gateway drug, like everyone else,” he said. “From there, I went on to try pills, brown sugar and everything that came my way.” Explaining the urge for drugs, he expressed that it (drugs) is like sea water—no matter how much you drink it, the thirst never fades away.

Mr. Hameed completed his journey from “just a drag” to “a hundred pills and a few rounds of alcohol” within two years, at the age of nineteen. By now, the urge transformed into a leisure habit for him.

Three Room Jail

Away from Noida, in the Valley, his family had no idea about his addiction until one day when Mr. Hameed passed out due to drug overdose in his university. “One of my friends had called my father to NOIDA for my treatment,” he said. “I was physically ill and was continuously vomiting.”

After a round of tests, Mr. Hameed’s father, a Kashmir-based businessman, was told by a physician that his son had been taking drugs. “It was very hard for him (father), as I am his only son,” Mr. Hameed recalled. “Initially he was in denial, but then he understood that a calamity had befallen upon me.”

In 2014, Mr. Hameed had turned twenty. From religious faith healers to Ayurvedic cures, when nothing worked for Mr. Hameed, his father had no other choice but to admit his only child in a private rehabilitation center in the outskirts of Delhi. “That period was very hard for me. That three-room-center was no different than a jail,” Mr. Hameed recalled.

After spending the first six months of his twenties inside the rehabilitation center, in the absence of his parents, he learned a few things, most importantly, the value of freedom. It was the first time when Mr. Hameed was introduced to NA by the rehab. “Being a teenager, I didn’t put much attention into it.”

The life that followed after rehab was not easy either. By the time he completed his graduation, the withdrawal symptoms turned uglier with depression. “It (depression) forced me into such a mess that I took drugs again,” he said. Falling in the trap of the gateway drug—cannabis, yet again, he relapsed after a year and eight months.

As Mr. Hameed enrolled himself in Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, to pursue a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) in 2016, drugs followed him inside the campus. Now, only a few grams of heroin changed the geek into a notorious boy.

“Heroin is a very dangerous drug and has no substitute,” he said, who was introduced to it through a friend. “It is expensive and I couldn’t afford it. But once you have it, nothing else can satisfy your urge.”

Talking about his parents, he believes that if he wasn’t the only child, they would have given up on him long ago. “Unfortunately, all they have is me,” he said. His family once again noticed the changes in his behavior. “They sent me to a rehabilitation center, again.”

Recalling the time he was admitted in south Delhi during his second year of university, in December 2017, he said, “Even if my family had died in front of me, I would have felt nothing.”

However, the beating stayed with Mr. Hameed. He firmly remembers the way he was beaten up inside the rehab. “He beat me like a dog. I can never forget that pain, and my broken jaw,” he said. “That’s where I made it clear to myself that I was never going to touch drugs again.”

The Salvation

Since then, Mr. Hameed has been walking on a different road and hasn’t relapsed. “I’m only grateful for my parents and Narcotics Anonymous [NA],” he said. “Every family should understand this disease and treat their children as patients.” He believes that only a supporting family can help a drug addict. Although he said that it took his family two-years to understand his illness, he is glad that they did.

Aiming to bring NA into Kashmir, which has turned around his life, he said, “There is no substitute to meetings. Narcotics Anonymous [NA] taught me how to live each day without using drugs. Drug addiction is like a disease similar to diabetes and NA is my insulin.”

Currently, four people attend the meeting with Mr. Hameed in certain places in Srinagar, including cafes in Nishat. “I assure every addict out there that through our collective experience, via these meetings, we will come out clean and live a good life,” he said. Adding that addiction is a killing disease, he said, “Come to NA before your addiction lands you in jail, asylum or brings you a humiliating death.”

This story originally appeared in the 15-21 July print issue of The Kashmir Walla.