Drug Menace in Mauritius becoming More Ominous

No one is safe from the drug menace, which affects all levels of society and all communities, so we cannot hide our heads ostrich-like in the sand — By TP Saran

We are forced to ask what has been achieved in terms of effectively combating the drug menace in the wake of the Rault Commission on drugs that was instituted following the ‘Amsterdam boys’ episode in the 1980s? If anything, the drug menace has surged with a vengeance, and its threat to society is manifest in myriads of ways. Not only do drugs have an economic impact, they also have nefarious effects across the board on the addicts and their families as the former will stoop to any level to source the money to get the drugs from unscrupulous traffickers, even to cause bodily harm or kill innocent victims they go to steal from. It is known to everybody that the big sharks are very skilful at hiding away and because of their networks in high places are almost untouchable.

Nevertheless, it is our duty to flag the drug issue as often as possible, even at the cost of repetition, especially because it is ravaging the youth and therefore the future of this country. As the WHO Global Youth/School Surveys have shown, the age at which all the social ills and risky behaviours – tobacco and drug consumption, unprotected sex being the most worrying – affect teenagers has been going down, to reach those as young as 12 or 13 years. However, it would be simplistic to simply put the blame on the youth for what is happening to them, or what they do to themselves.

The plain fact is that they are disillusioned when they see the widely reported shenanigans of those in high places who are supposed to be role models, whether it is illicit relationships, sex, money, ostentatious lifestyles that flaunt their riches, and all this in sharp and dire contrast to the thousands of others who are struggling to make ends meet. The chilling facts that are emerging at the Lam Shang Leen Commission confirm – as if any such confirmation was needed – the nexus that exists and that involves people who are assumed to be respectable and responsible in their professional roles, in their duties and their assigned briefs. At the very least they ought to have the decency to step down even before they are forced to do so by the exposures that come to light, and which do neither them nor the institutions or profession they represent any honour. In the process the image of the country too gets irrevocably tarnished.

We must therefore hope against hope that when the Commission’s report comes out, the authorities will abide by their pledge to take the needed strong actions as a first step towards tackling the drug menace with the seriousness that it deserves. Because no one is safe from this menace, which affects all levels of society and all communities, so we cannot hide our heads ostrich-like in the sand and pretend that we are secure.

Smart and stupid

On the other hand, it is almost impossible to understand why people would choose to subject themselves, even by way of experimentation, to the ill effects of drugs, about which they surely know in advance because the information is widely available on any number of online sites and on social media at which the youth are very savvy. It is no doubt in the nature of youth to try things out for fun – but they surely have enough intelligence to realize when harm is setting in? Or is it that in the age of smart gadgetry, which they possess, they are becoming both smart and stupid at the same time?

Take the latest drug that has hit the market, Flakka, which has been circulating in the US since 2014 at least. Its signs and symptoms are well known: bizarre behaviour, agitation, paranoia, and delusions of superhuman strength. It is also called the ‘zombie’ drug because reported cases have included an agitated man running naked through traffic who attempted to perform a sex act on a tree and then resisted arrest, a bizarre and dangerous behaviour directly due to the side effects of this new street drug Flakka.

Paranoia and delusion

Flakka is newer-generation version of bath salts, related to a broader group of chemical compounds known as cathinones. They are commonly called bath salts because they tend to be in the form of white powder or crystals. However, these substances are not at all the same as the bath salts in which people bathe. Besides the extreme agitation, and jerking muscle movements that they can cause, the paranoia and delusion make drug users feel they are being chased by a large group of people trying to kill them. These patients are a threat to themselves, the people around them, and the first responders (e.g. police) who are there to help them. It is common to hear reports that it takes multiple people to restrain and sedate these patients. Rescue crews and emergency department staff need to give sedatives to these patients to calm them and make them safe.

Studies have shown that bath salts users tend to be male slightly more often than female and younger than the users of other drugs, and most use it at least weekly. Most bath salts users snort or otherwise inhale the drug, causing a more intense high and higher risk of addiction and complications.

One such is that patients who are agitated can go into a state called ‘excited delirium’, which is a medical emergency. In the excited delirium state, restrained patients struggle to free themselves, scream, and can even have seizures. This struggling causes high body temperature called hyperthermia. Along with extreme muscle over activity this can cause muscle tissue to break down and release harmful products into the bloodstream. The extreme struggling can also cause dehydration. All these changes combined can impair the function of the kidneys, leading to renal failure and death. Why would one want to take the risk of dying through consumption of drugs when one is in the prime of youth? Only the youth can answer that.

It is the responsibility of the families, the authorities and social workers to create the necessary awareness about the dangers of all types of drugs, but it is up to the youth in particular to take a degree of responsibility for themselves and use their common sense to realize that they risk ruining their future and even face the real danger of death if they take to drug consumption. If that is not enough to frighten them, then we are afraid that nothing will.

 

*  Published in print edition on 24 November 2017

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