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Updated: April 20, 2013 16:24 IST

The hazy haven of heroes and heroin

GIRIJA SHIVAKUMAR
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Vijendar Singh: In the clear or not?
PTI
Vijendar Singh: In the clear or not?

In the face of celebrity drug scandals, India is becoming one of the primary consumers of recreational drugs globally.

Recently, the Indian-American hotelier Vikram Chatwal was arrested for allegedly carrying a large stash of drugs including cocaine and heroin. The allegations against Olympic medallist Vijender Singh for reported use of heroin continues to make headlines. A few years ago, Salil Chaturvedi, owner of the multi-crore apparel brand Provogue, was arrested for possession of cocaine. Sanjay Dutt was among the first Indian celebrities to publicly admit that he had a drug problem. And it’s unlikely that the horror story of Rahul Mahajan, son of late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan, nearly dying of a cocaine overdose will be forgotten easily.

For several celebrities, drugs are synonymous with their flamboyant, glamorous and reckless lifestyles. The rationale is that “their lives are out on a limb every Friday (movie release day)”. On the other hand, many users conceal the consequences of this habit by consciously reiterating falsely-assumed benefits such as ‘weight loss’ and instant ‘mood stimulation’.

The string of scandals implicating celebrities reflects the nation’s unbounded consumption patterns, making India one of the emerging primary consumers of recreational drugs globally. The weak legal consequences and poor investigation mechanisms add to the dubious nexus between celebrities and drug intake.

The fear of losing their stardom — or even being less than the best — is worse than the consequences of substance abuse in professional sports. Mirroring the murky reality of several celebrities in the West, Indian sportspersons, musicians and actors have pursued ‘recreational’ drugs.

Consumption patterns are fast changing as illegal substances such as cannabis are passé and ‘soft stepping stones’ for celebrities who are regularly snorting (sniffing) and injecting their way to more glamorous products like coke and heroin. These substances have become well-known supplements for a bacchanalian night-out. The standards have been set: among the truly elite, cocaine and high-quality heroin are de rigueur.

The allegations against Vijender Singh not only re-establish the reality of the inextricable link between celebrities and drugs but also effectively point to the potential manipulation of investigation processes. In recent developments, Vijender Singh was cleared in an out-of-competition drug test by the National Anti Doping Agency (Nada) after he submitted blood samples to them earlier this month. However, there remains a doubt about what particular substances he was tested for. The Sports Ministry directed for him to be tested for heroin, but Nada expressed its inability to do so citing the World Anti-Doping Agency’s protocol.

Psychiatrist and de-addiction specialist Dr. Sanjay Chugh argues, “Taking urine and blood samples from Vijender Singh shows complete ignorance on the part of the investigation agencies. Blood retains heroin for 6-8 hours and urine tests will show a negative result within 3-5 days. The only true diagnostic is hair samples.”

Faulting investigating agencies for their delayed approach, he says, “Vijender Singh is playing for time. At this rate even hair tests will be negative. He might have even gotten a haircut. To these people, the law means very little.”

Substantiating these claims, Singh issued a statement initially denying that he took drugs but refused to give his blood and hair samples when asked by Punjab Police during a nearly two-hour interrogation last month

Cocaine — called ‘Charlie’ or ‘Prince Charles’ — can cost around Rs. 3-4,000 a gram. Most cocaine users tend to be in the 25-34 age group. Coke is used by the ‘haves’. It fits the image created around them and even goes with their larger-than - life size persona, says Dr. Chugh.

“Coke is a part and parcel of life. It actually blends in with the lifestyle, sleep patterns and general scheme of things. It eases you from your daily stress with no obvious side-effects. It is a well-known secret that there is a small group of A-list actors and their wives who indulge in these drugs, especially coke. The telltale signs are obvious: the weight loss and gaunt look cannot be missed,” confesses regular on the Bollywood party circuit.

The count of celebrity addiction is alarmingly long and steadily on the rise. India’s emerging status as a drug consuming nation is linked in devious ways to the international drug trade.

According to the United Nations Drug Report 2011, India is the biggest consumer of heroin. Of the 40 tonnes produced annually in South Asia, India consumes nearly 17 tonnes (valued at a whopping $1.4 billion), by far the biggest consumer in the region. A ccording to this Report, the distinction between traditional ‘consumer’ countries and ‘producer’ countries is likely to soon fade with the galloping increase of consumption in developing countries such as India. Drug trafficking in India is often controlled by nationals from African countries who smuggle in cocaine from Europe, which is smuggled there from Columbia, and ship out heroin from India. The drug trade usually functions on a barter basis.

Nearly 80 per cent of the heroin smuggled out of India is sourced from Afghanistan. The purity of Afghan heroin is believed to be around 90 per cent and is exceedingly popular in the West.

“This indulgence is no longer restricted to ‘recreation’ use. Several members of the film industry believe that these drugs drive their ‘creative instinct’ and contribute to ‘exceptional performance delivery’. “It is not just actors. The circle extends to filmmakers as well. There is a perception that the sur (note) of the performance goes into a mind-blowing zone after the consumption of heroin and cocaine. It’s not just for recreation; these drugs are used to enhance performance too” reveals another Bollywood insider.

However, the experts tell a very different story. “There are a lot of people who have been using these substances on a recreational basis. However, it soon becomes a compulsion in order to sustain the high. While they want to do it repeatedly, it becomes impossible to perform daily duties. It is a dangerous addiction,” warns Dr. Gaurav Gupta, psychiatrist at Tulasi, Drug Rehabilitation Centre.

Even those who seem to have it all — talent, fame, money — can easily fall prey to destructive, potentially fatal patterns. Celebrities coexist with addiction. In the end, the drug-infused celebrity utopia is bound to be shattered.

Keywords: drug abuse

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