Over the last 10-15 years, increase in the use of methamphetamine, globally, has outpaced that of any other drug. In its World Drug Report 2016, the United Nations said that, “methamphetamine seizures have accounted for the largest share of global ATS [Amphetamine-Type Stimulants] seizures annually” in past years and that seizures have been “particularly dominant” in parts of Asia and North America.
The report also revealed these sub-regions to have accounted for most of the methamphetamine confiscation worldwide since 2009, and that between 2009 and 2014, seizures of methamphetamine in parts of Asia “almost quadrupled”. In 2015, seizures in East Asia for the first time exceeded seizures in North America (which for years had the highest number of confiscation) and were highest among all sub-regions of the world. During the same time, as reported by The Daily Star this week, its explosion in Bangladesh too, in the form of yaba pills, was unprecedented.
According to data from the Department of Narcotics Control Bangladesh (DNC), total seizures of yaba pills went from being 36,543 in 2008 to 812,716 in 2010, 1,951,392 in 2012, 6,512,869 in 2014 to 29,450,178 in 2016! This “striking surge since 2009 and the distance from Bangladesh border from production centres in Shan State (NE Burma),” according to Jane's Intelligence Review (a monthly journal on global security and stability issues), “appear to reflect a well-organised export drive rather than a gradual increase.”
Most worryingly, it is young people that have been its biggest victims. If we consider the harmful effects of the drug and the huge number of young people who are either abusing or are addicted to it, the threat of yaba should be seen as a crisis of national proportions. That is what top officials of police, Border Guard Bangladesh, Coast Guard and DNC told The Daily Star at a roundtable on Monday.
It is, in fact, almost reminiscent of the opium crisis in China following the Opium Wars that crushed the country and set it back decades by destroying, primarily, its young generation of that time through mass addiction. That is why, we, as a society, too, must recognise the widespread supply and consumption of yaba as a national crisis, if we are to ensure that it does not similarly destroy the future of our nation. And through that recognition, take steps as a society, as well as persuade the government to concentrate its forces on stopping this dangerous plague now, before it's too late.
So what more can the government do? Well, according to top law enforcement officials, the government should provide them with greater resources in terms of manpower and equipment. One of the main reasons for this is that the drug trade (particularly yaba) has become transnational in scope involving huge sums of money; it is impossible for law enforcers to deal with and effectively fight against the various challenges that so much money brings in with limited manpower. It is also very difficult for law enforcers to ensure that their sources and the intelligence that they provide are good when there is always the possibility of them getting paid off by drug-lords; hence, the need for surveillance equipment for information collection.
Another danger that comes with the enormous amount of money is that it can also entice law enforcers themselves to get involved. And although the punishment for law enforcers who are found to be connected with the trade is often quite severe, loopholes in our legal and justice delivery system make prosecuting drug traders difficult at times, whether they be law enforcers or others. The government should help fix these problems.
Because the incentive for individuals to get involved is so high in terms of monetary gains, the deterrent, too, has to be substantial enough to demotivate people from becoming entangled in the drug business. Socio-economic conditions for people too must be improved as those struggling to earn a living can always be used by drug-lords or even smaller drug dealers. As apprehending every single individual (and small) supplier is logically and literally impossible, in order to stop the supply, the only real option is to apprehend the major drug-lords and to punish them severely. Clearly, that is where the government's focus should be.
As drug kingpins always have sophisticated ways of hiding their involvement, the best way of going after them is through scrutinising their tax returns. Here, the Bangladesh Bank and the finance ministry must play a much more substantial role. They must work with law enforcement agencies to bring down the real masterminds behind the yaba trade which is the only way of addressing the immense crisis from the supply angle.
Finally, the BGB and other forces must do a better job of preventing yaba from coming into the country from Myanmar and India in the first place, and the “most important” aspect of that is “good fencing” along the border as top BGB personnel told The Daily Star.
When it comes to demand, however, society itself must do more to ensure that people, and young people in particular, understand the grave dangers of taking yaba. But simply warning the young people of its dangers will never work as young people, by their very nature, have a tendency to do exactly what they are told not to. Instead, they must be encouraged to spend their time and energy in other ways.
Interestingly, parallel to the increase in drug consumption, what we have also seen is a reduction in open spaces for young people and opportunities for them to get involved in sporting, cultural and other activities. With a gradual decrease in community activities and cooperation also, young people and individuals in general can feel increasingly isolated. One way of dealing with that feeling of isolation, and the depression that it may lead to, is to take drugs.
Hence, society must provide people better alternatives to prevent that from happening and try to reinvigorate the “feeling of belonging” to a community among people—one that cares for them and is willing to share and dedicate its time for them. Otherwise, yaba, literally called the “madness drug”, will lead to our nation losing an entire generation and suffering the long-lasting consequences of that.
Eresh Omar Jamal is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star. His Twitter handle is: @EreshOmarJamal