Buying a syringe and a hypodermic needle over-the-counter of a medical store in the city would have scarcely raised eyebrows earlier. But the apparent resurgence of intravenous drug abuse among a section of urban youth seems to have altered the scene somewhat, according to drug enforcers.
A pharmacy store owner in East Fort said he often found “haggard looking” young men in his store demanding a syringe and needle for no apparent reason. Some of them produced “doubtful” prescriptions for tetanus vaccine, or much costlier human insulin, to buy the apparatus.
As a general rule of thumb, many in his business did not sell drug abusers syringes. But it seemed not to be the case with certain law breakers in the same business. Adolescent drug addicts have threatened his counter staff, one time with a sword, for denying them syringes, he said.
The detritus of intravenous drug abuse was perhaps most evident in public toilets, parks and cinema halls. A theatre owner said his janitors often found needles and syringes in toilets, particularly after thinly attended matinee shows.
Kerala State Mental Health Authority secretary D. Raju said addiction to intravenously administered painkillers was on the rise and more prevalent among adolescents, given the “risk-taking behaviour characteristic of their age”. He said Buprenorphine, a potent analgesic that could legally be stocked only in licensed hospitals, was the most abused drug. It was used to alleviate withdrawal symptoms of heroin addicts.
Subsequently, it became the drug of choice for addicts who relapsed; chiefly because the synthetic opiate was more readily available in the black market than heroin.
The varying potency of heroin available on the street often caused death due to accidental overdose, which was another reason for buprenorphine to gain primacy among drug abusers. Mr. Raju said addicts often mixed buprenorphine with other painkillers, a potentially dangerous practice called “cocktailing”.
Excise Department's narcotic investigator B. Suresh Kumar said certain pharmaceutical companies in North India illegally diverted buprenorphine for sale in the street. Certain medical stores were also known to illegally stock the painkiller to sell to addicts. Drugs enforcers have “blacklisted” certain pharmacy stores, which stock and sell “suspiciously” large amounts of such drugs.
The police said they registered 769 drug seizure cases in 2010, most of them marijuana hauls. The number till June this year is 309. They said poor youth from coastal localities, notably those near the international airport, were among the most vulnerable to the drug menace.
Saifudeen Haji, Vallakadavu Muslim Jamait president, said that there were at least two suspected drug overdose deaths in such localities this year. Recently, the Narcotic Control Bureau had arrested a local resident on the charge of attempting to smuggle heroin to the Maldives. A portion of the drug was meant for local sale.