The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Why is the Rahul Mahajan case so worrisome for parents'

Rahul Mahajan, 31, could well be the face of a new India we refuse to see ' walking the razor's edge and prone to stray on to the dark side.

So, parents should be scared. The influence of drugs amongst the urban youth is on the rise. Narcotic trafficking has increased manifold in matching the demands of the young and reckless. While cocaine may be an expensive habit (at Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 per gram), narcotics such as heroin, crack or ecstasy are lighter on the pocket and far more easily available.

'Parents normally associate the intake of alcohol or some form of narcotics as a part of growing up. But in most cases it is actually a medical condition known as borderline personality disorder. Behavioural patterns such as recklessness, impulsiveness are signs of this disorder. Unfortunately, due to the pressures imposed on today's youth and the prevailing societal conditions, kids are far more susceptible to this and look for avenues to de-stress,' says city psychiatrist Shiladitya Ray.

What is most worrisome is the ever-dipping addiction age bar in Calcutta. Fourteen is not an uncommon starting-out age and 16-25 the prime abuser.

The factors can range from family problems and relationship problems to examination pressure and peer pressure. 'There are several reasons behind a youngster taking to drugs, from personality traits to stress and depression,' says Moushumi Mukherjee, a consultant psychiatrist. 'For some, doing drug is a way of living dangerously.'

Money and influence ' a heady cocktail in the Rahul Mahajan episode ' are also contributory factors to a section of youngsters seeking an instant high.

How rampant is the problem in Calcutta'

The city has not had a high-profile case to turn the spotlight on the problem yet, but there is no wishing the problem away. Calcutta may be slow on the snort compared to a Mumbai or a Delhi, but ecstasy and its ilk are pop picks for a youth populace with more pocket money and rising disposable income.

With the city being ideally placed on the international drug route, Chinese and Burmese traffickers have set up shop in Calcutta. Heroin from the Golden Triangle and Golden Crescent makes its way through Pakistan and Afghanistan, before being distributed amongst peddlers and traffickers in this country.

'The use of cocaine is comparatively less here compared to the other metros, but drug abuse is definitely a cause for concern. Heroin being relatively cheaper, is a massive threat,' says Gyanwant Singh, deputy commissioner, detective department, Calcutta Police. Narcotics, he adds, usually make their way from Uttar Pradesh to Bangladesh, via Calcutta.

What are police doing about it'

Both Calcutta Police and the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) are planning 'random raids' at nightclubs and other youth hangouts. 'Stern action would be taken against those found involved in the racket,' says deputy commissioner, detective department (special), Rajiv Mishra.

'Calcutta is fast emerging as a transit point and we are in constant touch with Border Security Force to crackdown on drug peddlers,' adds an NCB official.

Some 75 peddlers, 24 of them women, were arrested in Calcutta last year.

What are the popular youth drugs'

The sale and use of designer or synthetic drugs is witnessing an upward graph. LSD, magic mushrooms and ecstasy are the popular drugs doing the rounds of the city nightspots. Cocaine, unlike in Mumbai and Delhi, does not have a regular dealer network in Calcutta. Regular snorters have to go to Delhi or Mumbai for their fix, or get it back with them and on their return share it amongst a select crowd, behind closed doors.

'A gram of coke can cost you around Rs 4,000 in this city, which is why you won't see too many people talking about it as openly as ecstasy (around Rs 600 a pill),' remarks a party regular.

Prescription drugs are playing a bigger role as well. Anti-depressants such as Prodep, the Indian equivalent of Prozac, Valium, barbiturates and Alprax are popular prescription drugs being misused today. Over-the-counter sales continue unabated in most medical shops, allowing many to get their kick, cheap and easy.

Where do the youth do drugs'

Here, there, anywhere. Cocaine being a pricey social drug is normally shared at private parties behind closed doors. But otherwise, nightclubs are the nirvana junctions for peddlers as well as users. Popular pick-up points remain the same ' from Prince Anwar Shah Road to Park Street' just the prices and the quality fluctuates.

What are the tell-tale signs of drug abuse'

Psychiatrist Ray says extreme apathy, short attention span, moody and irritable behaviour, drop in academic and professional standards are the most glaring signs. As a user gets more and more dependent on narcotics, his or her psychological make-up undergoes a sea change. The user's only mission is how to get the next score.

What is the way out for family members and friends'

Rehabilitation and counselling are the most accepted courses of de-addiction. Rehabilitation consists of three stages ' management of acute crisis; psychotherapy (done on group, individual and family basis); re-institution into the community (through education, social support and social service).

Is there a permanent medical solution'

A neurological intervention can cure addiction to drugs. The surgery' cure of drug dependency with brain stimulation ' is now available at a handful of centres in the country and will soon step into the city.

'Parts of the temporal lobe in the brain control the drug addiction in a person. With stimulation, these cells can be made averse to the drugs,' says neurosurgeon R.P. Sengupta, president of Neurosciences Foundation of Bengal , the parent organisation of the National Neurosciences Centre at Peerless Hospital and the upcoming Institute of Neurosciences at Mullickbazar. Sengupta says the facility would be available at the Mullickbazar unit, a 150-bed hospital scheduled to become operational within a year's time.

During the surgery, the doctors locate the cells in the temporal lobe causing the attraction to drugs and stimulate them with medicines to make these cells averse to the drugs or alcohol to which the patient is addicted.

The surgical method is Stereotaxi ' a small incision is made in the skull and a needle is inserted through it. The needle then delivers the medicine to the particular point of the brain. 'The surgery has a success rate of 80 per cent and can be suggested in the case of addicts for whom other methods do not work,' says Sengupta.

A team of doctors, including neurosurgeons, neurologists, neuro-psychiatrist, psychologists and radiologists, must treat such patients. 'The surgery has to be backed up with psychological treatment and also proper support from the family,' stresses Sengupta.

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