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No drug? Pass me sleeping pills

india Updated: Aug 11, 2009 00:20 IST
Karthik Balasubramanian

What do addicts do when they cannot get their daily fix of brown sugar? They go for prescription drugs — sleeping pills or cough syrups easily available in medicine boxes at home.

Prescription drugs, like sleeping pills that are consumed to induce sleep, produce strong hallucinatory effects when one tries to resist the urge to sleep despite consuming the pills.

“Taken in excessive quantities, it can result in euphoric sensations similar to those produced by morphine,” said Dr Shanti Nair of National Addiction Research Centre (NARC). “Cough syrup cases are on the rise. Just last month I had three cases of cough syrup. One of them would gulp three bottles right at the pharmacist, in a frenzy.”

According to Dr Nair, prescription drugs are usually secondary addictions, which surface when dependency on a narcotic drug cannot be met. Most addicts, thus, end up getting hooked to multiple substances.

“We had a young brown sugar addict who got a job in Dubai after rehabilitation. In Dubai, where anti-narcotic laws are very strict, he started using sedatives to satisfy his cravings and went back to brown sugar immediately after landing in India,” Dr Nair said.

Executive Director of NARC, Shobhana Mannadiar, narrated the case of a 15-year-old boy who took 150 tablets of a popular anti-diarrhoea pill every day. The pill contains a compound chemically related to pethidine, a narcotic.

However, none of this is as harrowing as the recent rise in addiction to bites of non-venomous snakes among youth. “Snakebite purveyors are highly secretive. We do not know how the bite is administered. The few who have come here are tight-lipped about its effects,” said Mannadiar.

Substance abuse is not something that affects only the youth from middle- or upper middle-class families. Slum and street children, who have no access to the real thing, use whatever they can lay their hands on. Most popular among them are whiteners, which are available in abundance at railway stations.

“There was a nine-year-old here for rehab just a few days ago. He kept rubbing his nose with his fingertips like he would when he sniffed whitener,” said Alan John Dennis, a counsellor at NARC. “The action had become a reflex for him.”

“Those who have money do brown sugar till they run out of money. Those who don’t have the money inhale whitener. Many children from Dharavi are addicted to whitener. It is definitely a rising trend,” said a counsellor from Kripa Foundation, Bandra, requesting anonymity.