What does the Sikkim Anti-Drugs Act, 2006 in reality really entail?

What does the Sikkim Anti-Drugs Act, 2006 in reality really entail?
Picture Courtesy: www.wmur.com

Gangtok, March 31:

From the outside looking Sikkim looks like the perfect holiday destination with its vast varieties of flora and fauna, added to that is the scenic beauty that most tourist hotspots in Sikkim provide, while it also boasts about how rich in heritage and culture while also flaunting its progressive side but what Sikkim fails to mention is its problem with substance abuse/ drug addiction especially prevalent in its youth. The grass is always greener on the other side right?

While this small Himalayan state has always struggled with alcohol and drug abuse, dating as far back as the 1980s, over time the illicit use of pharmaceutical drugs has become worse with rampant and careless misuse of Pharmaceutical drugs which is at the centre of Sikkim’s problem with drug abuse. Pharmaceutical drugs such as Nitrosun or N10, cough syrups and Spasmo Proxyvon or SP as the street name is, are among the most popular drugs of choice for the state’s substance abuse users.

With the dawn of a new century i.e from early 2000 and the drug problem situation just worsening, the State government enacted the Sikkim Anti-Drugs Act, 2006 (SADA), intending to deal with its problem of prescription drug abuse, along with the misuse of medicinal prescriptions.

As Sikkim’s drug problem worsened leading up to the early 2000s, it enacted the Sikkim Anti-Drugs Act, 2006 (SADA), with an intent to tackle its own distinctive problems with prescription drug use. SADA was enacted to deal with the increasing abuse of medicinal preparations and its provisions mirrored those of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act). It continued to operate within a purely deterrence-based model through criminalising illicit drug use.

According to the ‘An Analysis of the Sikkim Anti-Drugs Act,2006’ the objective of SADA was to control and prevent abuse of drugs and to deal with increasing abuse of medicinal preparations. SADA aimed at filling the legislative vacuum highlighted by the Bill, by vesting in the Government of Sikkim the power to notify ‘controlled substances.’ While its provision did resemble the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act), SADA reflected a marginal shift in the state’s perception of drug use.

SADA also recognized the importance of a public health-based approach to drug use and provided for compulsory detoxification, followed by rehabilitation of all those charged with drug use. Unlike the NDPS Act, SADA, as it was originally drafted, did not provide for any jail term associated with drug use and limited the penalty to a fine of ten thousand rupees. Not including incarceration for drug use might have been an important first step in realizing the goal of national law.

As SADA did not provide imprisonment for the illicit drug use and instead the culprit had to pay a fine of Rs. 10,000. In 2011, SADA was amended with provisions for stricter punishments and the fine for illicit drug use was raised from Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000 which brought about sustained campaigns from the Sikkimese civil society, drawing attention to the futility of tackling addiction through criminalisation. With the amendments to SADA in 2011, Sikkim now had to follow an altered state policy towards drug use.

In 2017, further amendments were made to SADA which is by far the most extensive with it being a conscious attempt by the legislature to extend protection to drug users and lay down an elaborate scheme for rehabilitation. As enacted in 2006, SADA categorized offences committed by licensed dealers, state government employees, transporters, manufacturers and illicit drug users, irrespective of the number of controlled substances involved. In 2017, the offences and penalties under SADA were revisited to follow the model laid down under the NDPS Act. Offences were now classified based on the number of controlled substances. Three quantity groupings of small, large and commercial quantities were laid down. Unlike the NDPS Act, where small and commercial quantities are provided against all substances in weight,17 SADA adopts three ‘delivery formats’ to determine the quantity.

In 2018, SADA was amended again and elaborate provisions for detoxification and rehabilitation were laid down that facilitated access to healthcare services for all small quantity offenders and addicts,  entitling them to psychiatric evaluation followed by detoxification and rehabilitation, as required. This ensured that persons who engaged in small scale peddling to support their addiction were not excluded from the benefits of detoxification and rehabilitation.

Decriminalising drug use has removed the stigma that comes inherently with the criminalisation of any activity. Since drug use is no longer a criminal offence, the police instead of registering cases and arresting drug users, ascertain the need for de-addiction and
facilitate rehabilitation. On apprehension of any drug user, the police immediately inform a registered de-addiction centre, who then interact with the user and assess the need for institutionalization. The user’s family is consulted and the drug user is dealt with according to his/her specific needs. The focus of law enforcement agencies now remains on large scale peddlers and all drug addicts have access to healthcare and rehab

While on the ground, the impact has been enormous, stakeholders revealed that this sustained campaign by doctors, de-addiction centres and other members of the civil society thanks to the law not perceiving drugs and drug use with the inherent social stigma that comes with it as the use of drugs is no longer a criminal offence. Law enforcement does not punish or register cases against drug use and instead provide help while spreading awareness on de-addiction and facilitating rehabilitation.  

It has become much easier for substance users and peddlers to access help due to the existence of organisations like Sikkim Against Addiction Towards Healthy India (SAATHI), according to their webpage is a school-based Peer Education Model to prevent drug use disorders. The project was launched on May 26, 2013, and was initially piloted in two government schools in Sikkim: Deorali Girls Senior Secondary and Tadong Senior Secondary School, to measure the effectiveness of the program. Afterwards, it was upscaled to 30 schools in the year 2016-2017 and covered 100 schools by 2019.  Now, we are in SAATHI 2.0. SAATHI was conceived on the premise that “There are no teachers, there are only learners” and therefore the system of ‘Peer Education’ was introduced. The project aims to curb the issue of substance abuse and to aware students, parents, and school administration of the health and socio-economic implications. SAATHI empowers and enables the youth of Sikkim, through quality holistic education, to realize their full potential and understand their roles and responsibilities in making a meaningful contribution to the development of a prosperous and happy Sikkim.

Satyadeep Chettri, Secretary of SAATHI says“ SAATHI is a group formed by our friend circle to fight with the current drug abuse, the main objective of SAATHI is to help individuals who struggle to get rid of the addiction, while it was difficult at the beginning of the pandemic to digitize the models of SAATHI, the work that SAATHI does is very interactive and they had to go through several internal and external workshops and training to achieve the same effect. This didn’t stop SAATHI from continuing their work even during the pandemic.”

In their efforts to spread awareness about drug use and its harmful side effects, SAATHI has also launched a short film that premiered on March 30 and distributed it through the education sector premises.

Additional Chief Secretary of Education Department, Secretary G.P. Upadhdhay who attended the premiere of the short film as the Chief Guest expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the organization SAATHI while acknowledging their work towards the Sikkimese community. Former substance abuse users also give their testimonies on how they were able to beat the vicious cycle of substance abuse during the launching of the short film.

One individual from the capital, who would like to remain anonymous said “I was a substance user and was addicted for almost 11 years, though now I am completely sober. I do think about those days and feel like I wasted 11 years of life in a drug-fuelled haze. While initially I started using drugs for fun at first but got addicted later which is oftentimes the norm, After being a user for 11 years I got into a fight with my own family, that was when I decided that I would not use it anymore. Though saying it is easier than executing it, at first it was hard with my body going through the symptoms of withdrawal. I used to have body pains and constant fevers, but that was a learning curve I had to go through. I am very thankful to my family that they helped me during those hard times and now I am a healthy 40-year-old and who’s been sober for the past 4 years and is currently very content and happy with my life. The most difficult part is admitting you need help and sticking to getting help. Undeniably yes it's hard to get rid of drugs but today we have various NGOs and even the government provides help to fight against recreational use of drugs so I appeal to kick this vicious cycle and get help.”

With the Sikkim government coming up with a range of state-run programmes that facilitate SADA, which includes the State Action Plan for Drug Demand Reduction (SAPDDR)  along with SAATHI and to use awareness drives and education in peers to tackle the social evil that is substance abuse addiction. Sikkim could serve as an example for many other states which points out the fact that it is the economically and socially impoverished people who are being targeted albeit unfairly while letting the large scale traffickers get away.