Of late, there have been reports of suspected drug addicts being abducted from the streets and housed in ‘illegal’ rehabilitation centres in the media and of human rights abuse in these centres. According to the Drug Users Federation for Human Rights and Justice (DUFHRJ), three youths were allegedly abducted by volunteers of Foundation House Rehabilitation Centre from Sapermeina, Kangpokpi district by masquerading as policemen on October 25 and they were rescued by the Federation from the Centre’s premises at Samurou, Imphal West. Chairman of DUFHRJ RK Nolinkanta said, a few drug treatment centres or rehabilitation centres had been engaging in such illegation abductions for quite some time and it is time concerned authorities looked into the matter and take up adequate action. As reports say, there are more than 100 drug rehabilitation centres being run by private organizations in Manipur alone, and God knows how many of them are operating legally or with authorisation from the Social Welfare department.
One still shudders in remembering the wanton acts of cruelty and of moral debasement in de-addiction centres during the height of heroin addiction and widespread drug abuse by youths in the 80s and 90s. In one particular de-addiction centre in the southern district of Churachandpur, addicts were chained like animals and made to wallow in mud and slime fully stripped. In those days, addicts were tonsured and excommunicated by the society and the vigilante groups while the police were at wit’s end in dealing with the problem and most of the time they had no other option but to send the drug addicts to jail for a period of time as per the desire of the family. There was simply not a single protocol during those days for dealing with the drug addicts, who were but victims of the phenomenon prevalent everywhere in different corners of the world.
The world came to senses only when HIV/AIDS entered the scene and introspection began on how to deal with the twin problems of drug addiction and HIV/AIDS. Then came the interventions on needle sharing and harm reduction procedures among drug addicts while rehabilitation protocols with a human rights perspective was developed. Manipur, once considered the hub of drug addiction and HIV/AIDS, woke up to the challenge and with the collaboration of some committed NGOs was able to scale down the level of drug addiction and achieve higher results in HIV related interventions.
However, the situation got back to square one with the advent of SP tablets and other psychotropic substances in recent times, and well of course home-grown heroin laboratories along with widespread poppy plantations. And, it turned the tide of public opinion with the state government coming down hard with a war-cry of ‘War against Drugs’ in the state. With it, whatever sympathetic attitude towards victimhood with regard to drug addiction was wiped out from the public mind and opinion became harsher. Yet, whatever be the public opinion the state cannot afford to lose its senses and it must continue to deal with drug addiction with a scientific temper and approach.
The mission for bringing back the drug addicts into the mainstream must be followed and the rule-book or the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) established by the state authorities for operation and running of such rehab centres must be put into practice. As per the SOP, if any drug user is picked up, he should be produced before the executive magistrate, and the verification should be done by a police officer who is not below the rank of a DSP. The drug user has every right to choose the rehabilitation centre, as per the protocol. It is the responsibility of the Social Welfare department to monitor the functioning of all de-addiction or rehabilitation centres in the state, and all those centres operating without proper sanction or expertise should be disbanded.