“It clears your pain
You soul is claimed again, my love
You feel the need, it lets you bleed
You must concede, my love.”
~Thin Lizzy, Opium Trail~
Mumbai: Beautiful painted faces, glamorous clothes, trance music in the background and a smoke-filled room. You’d think that the scene was out of some Bollywood movie. But it isn’t. You hear high pitched laughter, men and women, whispering loud, high on love, or is it something else? It isn’t until you reach the washroom you realize that there is a long queue and it isn’t for the call of nature. Because the washroom is where the action is. They are all waiting for their turn to get high on Ecstasy or Cannabis in a new-age pop culture that is enticing youth in pursuit of the western ideal of hedonism, consumerism and free will.
Tehran: In the Southern slum of Shoosh, drug addicts lie in the streets, semi-conscious. The drug dealers eye each other with suspicion, as “Rayhan” moves around the old neighbourhood alley in his expensive suit and sunglasses. Rayhan is a young entrepreneur who lives in the fancy neighbourhood of North Tehran and he’s throwing a party for his friends this night. Opium, Ecstasy, Cannabis & crystal Meth — these are high priority on his list, and as dangerous as it is for a man from his background to be at Shoosh, he has no other choice. He’d risk it all, because his dealer is a man of means. He gets most of his “stuff” from neighbouring Afghanistan, which is the Opium Capital of the world. And for as little as 50 cents, he will sell a single unadulterated Heroin dose to men like Rayhan. The country of Iran with a population of 80 million, 5 million are hard core addicts, and millions are occassional users. This is what present-day Iran is grappling with. A decadent society is thrown deeper into the abyss with economic sanctions.
Shanghai: Maika lived in her own private pain. Her Mother was in prison and her father died when she was very young. With no husband or relative to help take care of them, she had to make a living to feed her 2 children. There was only one option — Prostitution. It’s not easy to live with the knowledge that you sell your body to feed your life. Heroin, Marijuana, Cannabis, all these become an easy trap to get away from it all, even if it’s only for a while. It has become a way of life for millions like her, and eventually they become subservient to the drug culture that pervades both urban and rural communities alike. With China being a major transit point for trafficking from Southeast and Southwest Asia, the Chinese drug cartel is alive and thriving.
Kabul: Salma lives in a high-walled makeshift home. Her Mother, Sister, Brother and 2 children live with her. At first glance, they look like a normal family, but they hide a terrible secret — all of them are addicted to Opium. In a country that produces the largest amount of illicit Opium in the world, it’s obvious that the local population would be affected in multiple ways. With war, poverty and corruption, Afghanistan has become a melting pot for drugs and drug consumption. Salma says that she and her close ones use Opium to forget their pain of losing their family members to war. Little do they realize that the fumes from their Opium use will soon make her 2 children addicted to it. Generations in Afghanistan are succumbing to the drug culture that has become a horrifying byproduct in a nation torn apart by war. One million Afghans are addicted, ie; 8% of the population. Like the Opium wars in China during the 19th century, Afghanistan is now fighting it’s own private battle.
Moscow: Mikhail was a war veteran from Afghanistan. He returned as a wounded soldier with military honours. But there was one vice he imported to his country when he returned — his addiction to Heroin. Around 2.5 million Russians are addicted to drugs, mostly in the age group of 18-39, drugs which find their way to Russia from Afghanistan, since the war in the 1990’s. In Russia, Mikhail says it’s easy to buy Heroin — as easy as buying your favourite soda. Thanks to a thriving drug cartel industry, 80 Russians on average, die each day from drug abuse — a generation of Russians, lost to Heroin.
The above stories are just tip of the iceberg obtained from sources who wish to remain anonymous and from reports in the mainstream news. It clearly underlines the menace of drug abuse, a menace that has cut across the barriers of geography, economic status, religion, age, sex, et al. And, according to the latest UNODC report, the illicit drug trade stands at $320 billion based on a 2003 study. It predicted that the number of global drug users will grow by 25% by 2050. The greatest increases will be in growing urban populations within developing economies. There are already about 23 million drug addicts in the world. Cannabis still rules the roost, but the UN report says that there will be a growing trend in the urban population of developed nations for synthetic, designer & prescription drug abuse.
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SOCIAL IMPACT OF THE DRUG MENACE
It is not just a health issue anymore, generations are being systematically rendered wasted, thanks to the illicit nexus between international drug cartels, local retailers and street suppliers that thrive on perpetuating and holding young lives to ransom. And every day, drugs from Ecstasy to Psychedelic drugs, to MDMA and LSD, the recreational drug industry thrives on innovation to break into societies to claim new victims. And like a Venus-flytrap, once caught in its web, promising lives are lost to the bubble of euphoria and surreal states of existence, blurring the lines between reality and lucid thought.
“It’s not the privilege of the elite anymore,” says a CEO of a digital Advertising Agency in Mumbai, ” recreational drugs, Cannabis in particular are doing the party circuit and are in much demand. Corporate honchos, models, college students, housewives – all are in for a little high. They make you more talkative, more confident, more open to explore things. It is a way of letting everyone know that you have arrived on the social scene.”
The worst hit are the youth, both high school and college-going. From the US to Afghanistan and China, drugs have worked their way into academic institutions. The local vendor across the street, or frequent visitor to the school premises, or a student who deals in drug peddling become sources for drug availability. It’s not uncommon to see groups of students in public restrooms or in isolated areas, or at social gatherings getting high on marijuana, LSD or other addictive substances. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Violent crimes, rape, shoplifting, burglaries and more, are common crimes committed by users trapped in their drug habit.
HOW THE INTERNATIONAL CARTELS WORK
The drug lords are the kingpins, who drive the illicit drug trade. They are responsible for executing procuring, distributing controlling trafficking operations and choosing their lieutenants and high profile executions. Their next in command are the lieutenants. They supervise the hitmen and falcons in their territories and have the authority to carry out low profile executions without permission from their bosses. Hitmen are the executioners within the cartel, carrying out assassinations, kidnapping, extortion etc, in their organizations name. The Falcons are the informants, the intelligence on the street, for the crime syndicate. The Colombian, Mexican, American, Russian, Afghan and Italian are some of the most dreaded cartels in the world.
According to UNODC , “Profits [from illicit drugs] accrue to a wide range of actors, from poor rural farmers to affluent urban dealers. But, in many instances, the single most profitable sector of the market is the process of transporting the drugs internationally. The funds raised by trafficking groups can be used to underwrite other criminal activity like money laundering, terrorism and even political insurgency.”
Technology has only made it easier for Cartels to conduct their transactions online, without even getting noticed or traced. A site called as Silk Route, is every Drug Kingpin’s dream come true. All transactions go unnoticed because they use a currency known as Bitcoin. An E-bay like website, which has become the leading marketplace for selling drugs online. Though anti-narcotics units are fully aware of its existence, they are powerless to stop it. Silk Road lists 10,000 items , most of which are drugs. The site is shrouded in secrecy and is difficult to get in. Personal verification is done, and only when it is approved, can the buyer engage, after that, it works like any other e-commerce site.
THE SUPPLIERS , THE CONSUMERS & THE NATURE OF THE BEAST
North America remains the largest market for illegal drug consumption followed by Western Europe, Australia and Asia. The Middle East has the highest consumption of Opioid drugs. Afghanistan and Iran are grappling with rampant Opium and Heroin addiction.
The Golden Crescent — Afghanistan, Pakistan & Iran, followed by The Golden Triangle — Burma, Laos, Thailand, Mexico & South America are the largest producers/cultivators.
Cannabis, Opioids, Amphetamine, Cocaine and Ecstasy are high in supply in that order due to consumer demand.
The paradox of the drug industry is that it is of very low value, or very little value, in countries where it is produced, like Columbia & Afghanistan. In Colombia – 2.6% of the total street value of cocaine produced remains within the country, while a staggering 97.4% of profits are reaped by criminal syndicates and laundered by banks, in first-world consuming countries.
The deeper paradox of the Anti-Narcotic system worldwide is that it always goes after the smaller fish, the lowest link in the chain, never the big cartels or financial systems. The producer countries, most of which are developing and still grappling with poverty and corruption, stand very little to gain, when compared to the consumer countries, most of which are developed and where demand remains high. Only 1% of all the money made goes to the farmers who grow the crops. The Cartels and drug lords and consumerist nations and their financial systems take almost everything else.
THE EXISTENTIAL PARADOX:
The drug trade is a complex one. Sometimes Governments turn a blind eye due to the high revenue it generates. Sometimes there are larger forces at play — the intelligence agencies for instance encourage Drug Trafficking for funding wars and actions against regimes that are hostile to its interests. The people almost always pay the price.
The ultimate crux is that we live in that Opiate delusion of a better world, we are fed with the existential belief that ultimately the good always triumphs over evil, and all will be well. Nothing could be farther from the truth. From the opium addicted teenage boy in Afghanistan to the Cocaine sniffing business entrepreneur on his way up the corporate ladder in New York, an addict takes comfort in the knowledge of a fate that likely awaits him. In his addiction, he keeps his death from catching him unawares, meanwhile perpetually living in a psychedelic world, close to his ultimate ideal, far from the tragic existence that haunts him in reality. What could be more elegiacaly beautiful or despairing? This is the delusion that feeds the beast within.