Tripping on Addiction –
Drug scene in Meghalaya

India is a developing country with billions of people that barely survive their day to day struggles. It is only natural that its government would concentrate on funding basic amenities. In the health sector, physical health is the basic need in comparison to mental health. However with an increase in the country’s purchasing power due to growth both in the public and private sector, comes an increase in spending income and lifestyle changes of many individuals but along with it an added increase in stress and other psychological & emotional conditions that was never before experienced. Such an entry into unchartered territory has pushed our government and its people to look into the mental health sector and adopted various preventive mechanisms that other countries have been implementing to tackle problems in the mental health sector including the de-addiction and rehabilitation sector.

However, our government is still ill-equipped to handle the recurring issues and problems that come with trying to understand this very foreign problem of Addiction and Substance Abuse within its own people. If one is to stereotype the cause of Addiction in India based on sayings from many prominent actors in the field who are trained and conditioned by a very foreign idea to think and profess the same thought then peer pressure, parenting styles, role models etc…etc would sound just right. But, the real culprits of the problems are happy that you and many others like you would think on the same lines as these “professionals” in this field of Counselling, De-addiction, Rehabilitation and Social welfare would. Because to them it means ignoring the Real cause and satisfy the need of society to do “good, socially acceptable work” through minimum sponsored programmes achieving minimum results through maximum community involvement.

A sketch by Benji
A sketch by Benji

The Central Government on Addiction & Substance Abuse 

The Central Government is the mother of all that has gone wrong with Addiction and Substance Abuse in our country. Its unwillingness to come up with better policies and better actions in prevention and control of substances (legal and illegal) has brought to its people a plague that’s slowly eating away and rotting the very fabric of families and communities in India. Its constant need to be portrayed as a major super power and want of a permanent seat in the United Nations has left its internal affairs in shambles. It has failed to come up with better solutions in handling and dealing with countries it shares its international borders with that it has now resulted in unchecked and unguarded drug routes to India especially the north-east through the Indo-Myanmar and the Indo-Bangladesh border.

The Central Indian Government itself is responsible for this blooming market of drugs, alcohol and other substances in our country as it controls the supply of such substances without care that this is affecting its own people because there’s no stringent implementation of laws and rules that checks and controls the supply and sale of substances within its own jurisdiction.

For example, India has pledged to take hard-hitting measures to reduce the use of tobacco at a regional meeting of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Timor-Leste but here at home, it continues to break on its promise to make it mandatory for pictorial warnings to cover 85% of cigarette and beedi packs because of resistance and pressure by the tobacco lobby.

Our Central Government is trying to portray through the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment that it’s doing something on the demand reduction side but the efforts will be futile if there is no check in the supply side and it is unfair to those fighting to fight an already lost war where your own captain also supplies ammunition to the enemy.

Its careless attitude towards fighting against the onslaught of the damage caused by uncontrolled supply of substances, legally and illegally, has ensured the survival of Addiction and the slow genocide of its people.

In its effort to show a struggle against substance abuse and addiction, It through the Ministry of social justice and empowerment is providing funding to various organisations and societies through State Governments to meet the need of demand reduction and rehabilitation but, Its greed for data collection and its need for quantity results rather than quality results has pushed state governments and the recipients of such funding to fail miserably in their war on drugs and forced them to completely ignore that minimum standards of care are fulfilled and this is where many organisations and societies then takes advantage and provide only mediocre treatment and facilities and would even fake data just to meet deadlines and receive funding . However the flip side is that these recipients of funding cannot sustain themselves and meet every ‘tick’ in the standards of care as such funding are limited and since the government does not seem to want to learn the actual problems of such funded entities, it is difficult for them to hire qualified professionals and still expect to make ends meet.

The Central Government should understand that the funding it is providing need to meet the requirements as per inflation and also to cater to meet the living wages of the workers involved in such schemes. How can it expect dedicated and qualified workers to continue to work in the field without consideration of their workers right and better living. It needs to ensure that proper care are taken by the state and societies to meet standards of care otherwise it will lose those who are dedicated and caring to the mission simply because of its indifferent attitude to the nature of work.

The central government which includes the ministry of social justice, health and family welfare, etc need to revamp their policies on health, addiction , on worker’s rights and living wages if at all they want better results in their respective programmes. Their need for meeting data driven deadlines need to stop so that long term goals are met rather than pursuing short term goals.

It is time to come out of the ‘minimum spending, minimum results and maximum community involvement’ policies that we’ve always had as they are outdated and proven failed from time to time.

Meghalaya Government on Addiction & Substance Abuse 

In Meghalaya, 17,833 is a number used quite often by many when there is a talk on Drugs Abuse/Addiction in our State. This study was conducted by NEIDAC in 2009 which showed alarming increase of drug users in Meghalaya by 33% in just 10 years and the trends of Abuse in different regions of Meghalaya.

Another Study of children averaging at 14.3 years, showed Meghalaya with 23% Heroin users, 96.4% Tobacco use, 50.9% Cannabis users. It revealed that almost all other forms of addiction from alcohol to inhalants’ were present in all the states where the study was conducted. (Study conducted by AIIMS & National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre, New Delhi.)

However, these data cannot provide the reality of the effects and grip that Drugs and Alcohol have in the youths and the people of Meghalaya. These data are either outdated or their conclusions are based on limited targeted samplings within specific controlled environments to produce specific results that was necessary for their particular study but no concrete deductions can be made on the overall addiction problems in our state.

Meghalaya is a state that leisurely takes up policy making in its own sweet time and is always trustworthy to do it late or never. A drug policy has been sounded in Meghalaya quite a few times for quite a few years and most recently it was announced by the Social welfare Minister during the consultation meet to observe the International Day against Drug Abuse and illicit trafficking. Whether this Drug Policy will be effective and cater to the needs of its citizens is yet to be seen. But experiences have taught us better.

Meghalaya Government constant ignorance to the menace of addiction and its nonchalant attitude to mental health needs of the State are responsible for such alarming increase in substance abusers and in psychological and emotional distress by most people in Meghalaya. Its failure to curb over the counter sale of highly intoxicating drugs as common as codeine, muscle relaxants etc is one fine example of the relaxed state of affairs the Meghalaya government is on drug control. The easily availability of Gateway drugs in shops all over the state has only increase the problem where children as young as 10-11 years are getting use to the intoxicating thrills of these substances and will eventually look for higher and higher thrills until it’s too late for them to ever come out of the deadly grip of addiction.

The inability of the state implement the existing laws and rules and their non willingness to direct shops to not sell cigarettes, bidi’s, gutkha’s and even alcohol to those underage has led to the increase in the number of addicts in the state.

Although representatives of our state government has from time to time spoken on the need for action with respect to control and prevention of addiction yet their words are yet to produce any concrete results. Most recently, Meghalaya’s Minister for Social Welfare, Smti. Deborah C Marak in the regional workshop on prevention of substance abuse held at the state convention centre, has said that drug abuse is a matter of serious concern and that the government is taking up steps to address this issue and in steps taken in sanctioning treatment centres for women but statements and initiatives such as this has been sounded many a times that one starts to wonder if it’s ‘the boy who cried wolf’.

The State Government also need to work with its police force to check and control this increasing and free flowing growth of drug supply in our state. Tough questions need to be asked when it comes to the police efforts in curbing substance abuse menace in our streets. Firstly, Is our police department so blind to the ever increasing sale of illegal substances in the streets and shops everywhere when a child could easily locate which shop sells illegal banned substance and which do not? Secondly, Is it feasible on the part of the drug task force of the police to claim that people can just pass so easily in and out of international borders without proper checking and verification and Are we to believe that shopping malls in India have better check in system than our international borders and interstate borders ?. Smti Anita Agnihotri, the Secretary, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment informed during a regional convention held in Shillong, that drug abuse is rapidly increasing because northeast serves as one of the major transit zones for drug trafficker. Now, based on her remark, isn’t is crucial for our state government along with our police department to work with other neighbouring governments and police departments to come up with better solutions to developing the border areas also and demarcate them properly such that better check-in system can be in placed to contain and control the influx of drugs and other substances into our country via our region.


In Meghalaya, since the state seems to ignore the problem completely except in celebrated international days, it is up to individuals to take up the cause and try to do the best they can with the limited resources available. However, these individuals themselves are ill-equipped with either the education or knowledge on prevention and control of addiction and substances abuse. As the state government which includes the social welfare, health, and education departments, themselves seem lost and unwilling to learn the difference of different professionals and their role in curbing the attack of addiction on its people, these individuals are forced to play roles not meant for them and will not be able to play out their full potential. The State Government need to start to learn the difference between different profession like psychologist, psychotherapist, social worker, peer educator etc and their abilities and capabilities in fighting addiction and substance abuse. It is also wishful thinking that the formulation a drug policy in Meghalaya will keep the different roles in mind.

Meghalaya Government is marked by so many irregular and corrupt practices that make headlines everyday that people tend to look at the addiction issue as a ‘result of it’ or as ‘freedom from it’. Our Government need to rid itself from corrupt practices and work on implementing positive policies that will benefit its people for it to shed away from the negative image it has carried to again ensure trust and cooperation especially when it comes to issues like Addiction and Substance Abuse which requires State – Community involvement to ensure its success.

Thus, the need of the hour is for our Governments to come out of their comfort zones to formulate and implement policies that will benefit the people stressing on quality treatment and prevention remedies that will create ripples of change in achieving long term goals to ensure achievement of a Drug Free India, Drug Free Meghalaya.


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Roney Lyndem Written by:

Roney Lyndem works as counsellor and is a Union activist with Thma U Rangli Juki (TUR)

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