Anti-drug campaign to focus on schools, colleges in Kerala

KOCHI: With drug use among youngsters on the rise, as many as 4,557 under the age of 18 have gone to rehab under the excise department’s Vimukthi mission in the last three and half years. This worrying trend is forcing the department to change tack with its anti-drugs campaign, with the focus turning to schools and colleges.

Under the Vimukthi programme, every district in the state has a de-addiction centre staffed by counsellors. Around 1,19,56o persons have received treatment at these centres since October 2018, when the facility first went full-fledged. Of this, 9,909 underwent in-patient treatment. V A Pradeep, joint excise commissioner in charge of the Vimukthi programme, said a large number of youngsters are undergoing de-addiction at Vimukthi centres. Yet, many parents still hesitate to seek help for their children’s drug addiction.

“As per the NDPS Act, minors booked in narcotic cases must mandatorily undergo counselling at Vimukthi, after which prosection measures against them are dropped. A number of parents have approached us seeking assistance in helping their children tide over substance abuse. If such wrong habits are detected at an early stage, there is a full chance of children recovering from the addiction. However, due to social stigma, several parents still hesitate to provide medical care to their children,” he said. Between January 2023 to March 2024, according to excise data, 9,889 NDPS Act and 23,387 Abkari Act cases were registered in the state. Most of the NDPS cases were registered in Ernakulam (1,141), Kottayam (1,014) and Alappuzha (871) districts.

As part of the 14-day in-patient programme, each participant must have a custodian at the de-addiction centre. Children from dysfunctional families are more vulnerable to drug abuse, says Pradeep. “We have seen children who loathe their parents often land in the clutches of drug peddlers. The role of parents is crucial in rehab,” he said.

A senior excise officer in Ernakulam district said that around 40% of people seeking rehab are under the age of 21. “Most children start using drugs from within their friends’ circle. Some consider it a fad. By the time many realise their folly, the addiction would have upended their lives. We have arrested numerous peddlers who target school and college students. More and more women are also approaching us for the programme,” he said.

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