By Sunny Kulathakal
A priest, a doctor and a social worker were interacting on the subject, “Youth and narcotic drugs” with a packed crowd at a church in London. When the question & answer session came, the youths one by one without any hesitation stood up and started shooting questions. What is the proof for the contention that pep pills meant for stimulation is harmful to health? How much heroin can be consumed safely without the fear of addition? What can happen to us if we smoked dry plantain stem after burning it? The questions were interestingly vivid and strange at times.
On the back row of the audience there were a few reputed middle aged persons. Being residents of city suburbs they didn’t have much idea about these issues. How could that older generation know about the intricacies of drug abuse? According to one youngster in the gathering, what could be done in the issue of drugs was just to make it available in sufficient quantities to the needy. The problem of another was that his weight had come down a little due to usage of drugs and he has some anxiety about the same. A young lady claimed that she had taken 23 tablets that evening.
Youngsters who attended had only unsatisfactory remarks about the meeting. They complained that only the opinions of the elders were discussed and they were not allowed to come to the stage for presenting their arguments. “The old men could not understand all these. When we argue in favour of drugs they naturally adopt a negative attitude to it” they were saying.
There is at least some substance in this criticism. Narcotics are a subject on which the youngsters don’t have the right knowledge while the old generation has a strong prejudice. We could hear the clamour on the one side for counter measures by those who just brand “drug abuse as the bane of the youngsters” and despise the same. On the other side there is an undue hue and cry about drug abuse. But no one is really bothered about the dangerous side of drugs. Between these, the lack of communication and generation gap are creating more widespread problems.
There are at least a few among the older generation and younger generation who could think in a matter of fact manner. It is desirable if they could find answers for the questions cited below.
- What are the explanations of the medical science about narcotic drugs?
- Why some are self-experimenting with such drugs?
- What are the social and personal factors that make some get addicted to drugs and its consequences?
- What the society needs to do for solving the issues arising out of drug abuse?
There are people who think that intoxicating drugs are only those which are being used illegally. This is not correct. There are many other drugs being abused other than those which are illegal. Drugs which transform human mind and the sensible planes of man are catching the attention of the world of late. Each drug has its own harmful effects and lead to dangerous consequences. One common characteristic of drugs is that they create a kind of psychedelic dependence. “The mental temptation to use drugs from time to time or regularly as a means to get relief from discomfort or as a time-pass (Psychic drive)” this is how WHO has described such kind of psychedelic dependence. Heroin and sleeping pills contain in itself the power to create such kind of dependency. This is present in a minimal measure even in nicotine contained in cigarette and caffeine contained in coffee.
As already mentioned, some drugs can lead to psychedelic dependence. Since they cause some chemical change in the body, there will be serious physical problems when one discontinues using the same. Heroin, arrack, morphine and sleeping pills belong to this category. These also can be listed as some of the strongest narcotics. Once it was thought that only severe drugs can cause addiction while soft drugs are not that dangerous. What is caused by the former is described as addiction while that caused by the latter is known as habituation. There is a possibility of people depending to the maximum on drugs like cannabis which does not cause physical addiction. That’s why WHO is inclined to use the word “dependence” instead of “addiction”. The variance of this kind of dependence will be in accordance with the psychological characteristics of the individual users. Hence the categorization as heavy intoxication and lighter intoxication might not always be correct.
Apart from physical and mental dependence, narcotic drugs can also cause drug tolerance. This leads to progressive hiking the dose of the drugs to get the satisfaction, the users initially used to have. In the book “Confessions of an opium eater”, the author, De Quincy, an Englishman has described his own experience. He confesses that he had to increase the dose of opium manifold over the course of time to get the satisfaction he got when he used it initially. Those who are tolerant to a particular drug are likely to develop drug tolerance towards substances similar to that particular one. This is known as cross tolerance. For example are the tolerance to heroin and pethadine by users of opium.
The features observed in persons who attempt to discontinue using certain drugs are known as withdrawal symptoms. These are likely to create serious problems. It is safer to have such a withdrawal process take place under expert medical supervision. These withdrawal complications are because of the loss of equilibrium which, the user had attained due to regular usage of some particular drugs and his acclimatization with the same. The initial symptoms will be lethargy and weakness followed by restlessness and panic. Stomach ache and omitting also may occur. Sleeplessness and disruption in speech are also likely to happen. In short it will be a virtually pathetic condition. Withdrawal symptoms are most agonizing among the users of morphine, opium and heroin. To know the severity of physical dependence, the best thing is to stop the supply of opium to a regular user.
Manamanath Guptha, during his jail days happened to directly witness the experience of a political prisoner addicted to opium failed to get it. He describes the incident like this: “When opium was not available in the jail he was totally broken. By next morning he had almost become a dead man. He could not even move his body. Just like a deflated balloon, all his laughter and enthusiasm had departed from him. He was totally disinclined to move and talk. Even his responses to anxious and sympathetic enquiries were in an extremely feeble and tired tone. He lied down covering himself in a blanket. The fellow prisoners could not discern what his ailment was. When the barracks closed in the evening what we heard was that he had managed to get out after submitting a letter seeking pardon. Had he got opium according to his need, I am sure that he would not have written for pardon”.
Have a look into what is described in a Malayalam novel about the peculiar condition of the people who are regular users of opium. Kunjonachan, the central character of “Arnazhikaneram” the novel of Parappurathu is asking the doctor “is there any harm in eating opium?” The doctor’s reply was like this “opium is of course harmful, but stopping at this stage will do only more harm. Even if it is poison, if one takes it in a fixed measure over a long period, it will become a necessity for the body”.
One thing is clear from all these. Whatever is the drug it will have its adverse impact on the human body. In short, the physical and mental problems will be manifiold for those who take drugs for some temporary relief and pleasure.
Views on the occurrence of addiction of drugs are varied. At what stage it turns into addiction varies from individual to individual. The evaluation of the intensity of addiction varies depending on the difference in perspectives like medical, psychological or social. A doctor’s interest comes only when the health of the person who uses drugs is in danger. The social workers intervene when the productivity of the society gets affected. Psychologists turn their attention when the problem assumes psychic dimensions in individuals. It is also worth noting that not all the drugs create the same kind of addiction.
What contained in narcotic drugs are substances-either natural or synthetic- that create the temptation to enter an unusual state of deep sleep or hallucination. These drugs are generally called as narcotic drugs. Even a minor dose can affect mental sharpness. It helps to conduct painless surgeries and cause deep sleep. But overdose of these drugs might lead to unconsciousness, over sleep, emotional outburst, total collapse and even death. The best examples of narcotic drugs are opium and its extracts like heroin and morphine. Those who depend on them on a regular basis used to become slaves of the same and their life will be in doldrums. Apart from mental and moral degeneration it will also lead to physical ruin.
Drug dependence and drug abuse are two different things. Abuse of drugs tells on the value judgment of the society. While talking about the abuse of drugs in general, nobody thinks much about its medicinal values. Use of drugs other than for medicinal purposes can also be listed as abuse of drugs. Excessive and unnecessary administration drugs other than narcotic ones can also be categorized as drug abuse. The word abuse is generally used to highlight the harmful consequences of developing drug use as a habit and getting over- intoxicated with drugs.
There are many who ask the following questions: why should the society bothered about the harm occurring to an individual due to usage of drugs? If the behaviour of such an individual does not directly affect the society is there any need for the society to intervene? Those who ask such questions have not studied exactly what narcotic drugs are. They are also the ones who have not thought the least about its harmful impact. They are also not realising the fact that it is the totality of the individual activity of each person in the society that controls the pulse of the society as a whole. In this context an analytical study of the realities of drugs in the light of medical science is of great relevance.
Translation: Saj mathews