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A sniff of glamour and abuse

Girija Shivakumar
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India is emerging as the highest consumer of recreational drugs, and the dubious nexus between celebritiesand substance abuse is increasingly coming to light

Opium fields:Though eradication of the opium poppy plant is undertaken, trafficking continues.
Opium fields:Though eradication of the opium poppy plant is undertaken, trafficking continues.

The Indian-American hotelier Vikram Chatwal was arrested recently for allegedly carrying a large stash of drugs, including cocaine and heroin. The allegations against Olympic-medallist Vijender Singh for the reported use of heroin continues to make headline news. While Provogue’s owner Salil Chaturvedi was arrested for the possession of cocaine, Sanjay Dutt was amongst the first Indian celebrities to publicly admit that he had a drug problem.

While some celebrities rationale its use as a performance booster, many others attribute its use to falsely assumed benefits like weight loss and instant mood stimulation. But the string of exposures for sure signals the steady slotting of India as one of the emerging primary consumers of recreational drugs globally. The weak legal consequences and poor investigation mechanisms help solidifying the dubious nexus between celebrities and drug intake.

Consumption patterns are fast changing as illegal substances such as cannabis are passé and mere ‘soft stepping stones’ for celebrities who are regularly snorting (sniffing) and injecting their way to more “glamorous” products like coke and heroin. Cocaine, affectionately called “Charlie” or “Prince Charles” can cost between Rs. 3,000 to 4,000 a gram. Most cocaine users tend to be 25 to 34 years old.

India’s emerging status as a drug consuming nation is linked to the international drug trade in devious ways. According to the United Nations Drug Report 2011, India is the biggest consumer of heroin. Of the 40 tonnes annually produced in South Asia, nearly 17 tonnes are consumed in India — valued at a whopping $1.4 billion.

According to this report, the distinction between traditional 'consumer' countries and 'producer' countries is likely to fade very soon with the galloping increase in consumption of developing countries such as India.

Drug trafficking in India is often controlled by nationals from African countries who smuggle in cocaine from Europe that 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 which is believed to be around 90 per cent, and exceedingly popular in the West.

“In the case of celebrities they have the money to spend. 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. Sanjay Chugh, psychiatrist and de-addiction specialist.

“Coke is a part and parcel of life. It actually blends in with the life style, sleep pattern and the 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. Besides, the tell-tale signs are obvious: the weight loss and gaunt look cannot be missed,” says a Bollywood party circuit regular.

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 in Delhi.


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