(As drug abuse problem is emerging as a challenge in Goa, Our Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Peter F. Borges, pens down an “Open Letter to Chief Minister of Goa”, asking the state to address it in a structural and systematic manner)
Goa’s identity, besides, being the land of sun, sand, sea, fun, has over the decades transformed from being a pleasant and healthy tourist destination to invoking negative connotations to tourism by becoming a hub for drugs, affecting our image nationally and internationally. Drugs have become a scourge, whether in coastal areas, towns or villages. The scale of the problem is undeniably immense and worrisome.
I felt that I should be failing in my duty as a member of civil society if I did not attract your attention to the fact that the drug abuse in Goa has reached its peak. Today many youths have sought refuge in alcohol and drugs, leaving many parents and teachers wondering about the future of our country. The incidence of drug abuse disorders among the students is getting closer to epidemic proportions. The economic toll of drug-related illnesses is devastating villages across Goa and robbing the state of vital, employable citizen leaders of the future.
There is a critical need for addressing the issue as it threatens to erode the fabric of our social order with our future generations falling prey to drug abuse. Young people are the most valuable asset, but statistics present figures that portend a scary situation.
Sir, the response for the drug abuse has been pathetic. Awareness of illicit drugs, access to them and their abuse have dramatically increased. Despite significant gaps in information, increases in the abuse of major dependence-producing drugs are seen in the state. Reports from the media, NGOs, observations of experts, studies of education, work and health – all point to severe problems.
I feel pleased to share with you that Human Touch Foundation has been making isolated efforts with its resources towards demand reduction since 2011. Besides, conducting awareness programmes in educational institutions in vulnerable areas, Human Touch Foundation has launched a mass awareness campaign, “Get High on Life” in 2016. Recently, I have been encouraged and motivated by the personal efforts of Smt. Chandan Chowdhary, SP (North Goa) to join hands with us and strengthen the campaign.
Learning from the experiences, I further propose the following recommendations that your government can takeby giving more considerable attention to the issue of drug abuse. Your government, through your predecessor, late Shri Manohar Parrikar has worked well to enforce supply reduction strictly. Further, it is in this spirit that I wish to set out the following main areas where I seek some action and reform:
- Firstly, there is no anti-drug education strategy in the state imparted via a school curriculum. Drafting a uniform curriculum for schools and its implementation is, in fact, long overdue. It is significant and even more crucial now to empower our young people with the necessary skills in resisting addiction. It’s time for educational institutions to recruit and train certified counsellors as part of their staff to help students deal with educational stress and problems like low self-esteem, lack of confidence, etc.
- Secondly, reducing the demand for drugs through treatment and rehabilitation and creation of a supportive environment for the drug demands is a prerequisite before tackling illicit trafficking. Also, an essential element towards the recovery of drug users is the need to work with their families. In many cases, the families’ response to drug use is extreme anger and negativity. It stands that many users don’t inform their families about it due to the repercussions of divulging the fact. While it will be traumatic for the family to accept such facts about their family members, there is a need to work with these families to help them deal with the crisis and also develop their coping mechanisms. This, in turn, will help them to become the much-required support system for the clients.
- Thirdly, since resources for specialised assistance for persons with drug problems are very less in the state, and the drug menace penetrating rural areas, existing primary health care settings and networks should be adapted to care for drug abusers. The general health workers should receive training to deal with alcohol and drug problems, especially in counselling and crisis management of early phases of cases of substance abuse disorders.
- Fourthly, what is need the most is the investment by the government on both, primary prevention and rehabilitation. Good infrastructure setup of certified rehabilitation centres where the workforce is clinically trained to look after addicts will immensely contribute towards the ecosystem of mental health recovery programmes. A professionally run set-up will plug an essential gap in the welfare and rehabilitation of addicts back into society by allowing them also to earn a livelihood.
- Lastly, it’s time for a State Drug Policy. The subject matter needs an integrated effort with the involvement of all stakeholders, a well-articulated approach based on evidence and commitment of resources. A good state drug policy and a plan of action would address our concerns and provide a fresh and lasting impact of the government’s effort to drug abuse. Furthermore, I believe this is both reasonable and in the broader interests of the state.
As an organisation, we are ready to work with you and your government to deliver your commitment. Each of the above points I have listed has value on its own, but combined; they present a robust plan that has the sign of creating significant and enduring change for our state. We urge you as a Chief Minister of the State of Goa to champion this effort and history will remember you as a Chief Minister who initiated a sustained programme to address drug abuse in Goa.
I hope this letter clearly explains my fears and concerns to you. We would like and hope you will consider our interests and our pledge, which I believe will better deliver your Government’s agenda.
I urge you to act fast, and we look forward to supporting and assisting you in this endeavour. I earnestly hope you will respond and not pursue the policy of silence. Kindly favour me with a reply on the follow-up action being taken by you on the suggestions in this representation.