“More Americans than ever are dying from fentanyl overdose as the fourth wave of the opioid epidemic crashes through every community, in every corner of the country,” says a study released this week by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and published by BBC News.
Fentanyl, according to the report, is a pharmaceutical drug that can be prescribed by a doctor to treat severe pain. Like all chemical drugs available in India, it is illegally manufactured and sold for huge profits by criminal gangs.
Most of the illegal fentanyl, says the BBC report, which quotes the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), is trafficked from Mexico after the chemical is sourced from China.
The story on the BBC has not just raised eyebrows but is frightening. Although there have been drug seizures by law authorities in Goa, medical practitioners and recovering addicts in Goa indicate that things are better than they have been.
There is hope as all is not lost as the medical fraternity is keeping up with advancements in treatment.
The truth is that the drug market is flooded with chemicals and the biggest consumers are tourists from across the states and children of the well-off in Goa. The new drug has lured the nouveau riche and is leaving its imprint.
“The rise of illicitly manufactured fentanyl has ushered in an overdose crisis in the United States of unprecedented magnitude,” wrote the UCLA study authors. “Virtually every corner of the US, from Hawaii to Alaska to Rhode Island, has been touched by fentanyl,” it added.
In India, it is not fentanyl, but mixtures of ketamine and methamphetamine – the two most sought after – that are doing the rounds.
They are being mixed with opioids or cocaine and sold as speed. Deaths have taken place but are not always reported. Therefore, the statistics are hazy.
The Directorate of Health Services (DHS) has woken up to the problem, especially in North Goa, where the consumption of drugs is more prevalent in comparison to the South, but we are just on the first step of a ladder that needs a lot of climbing because drug addiction is not a medical condition that has an easy cure.
Substance abuse in Goa is managed by District Mental Health Programme (DMHP) in North and South Goa. The former has an edge over the latter because of more cases of addictions. Unfortunately, that should not be the scenario.
The DMHP outfit in North Goa uses methadone syrup and buprenorphine, while the same drugs are not available in the South nor do they have an Addiction Treatment Facility (ATF). The health secretary should see that the same treatments are available at both centres.
Dr Rajesh Dhume oversees a better drug recovery programme in the North, whereas the onus is on Dr Shilpa Pandya in the South, who makes the best of the resources made available to her.
The drug crisis in the USA and many countries of Europe is normally seen as a problem faced by “white people”, but studies have indicated that African Americans or African Europeans are a bigger part of the problem.
Similar is the case in our country, where despite the focus being on the more affluent or the so-called upper caste, substance abuse is creating havoc amongst the poor, the most vulnerable of society because it is cheaply available.
That Goa has accepted it is in the grip of the menace of drugs is one part of the solution.
How to put the brakes on it, is the other, and that entails a lot of effort on the part of law enforcement agencies because they are the ones who receive the best treats, and the temptation is as irresistible as drugs are to an addict.
The cure for drug addiction starts with oneself, with self-awareness and a desire to change. It is only then that medical intervention will make a difference.
The best medical facility will be of no help to get an addict out of his/her habit if the cleanup does not begin with himself/herself.
The willingness to fight one’s addiction must be an individual choice.