Designer Drugs a New Problem for India's Young and Glamorous

Vijender Singh, Apoorva and Shilpa Agnihotri, Rahul Sharma and Wayne Parnell, celebrities from all areas of pop culture have been getting in massive trouble with Indian officials, as connections to drug raids seem an almost daily occurrence. These raids are in response to the string of westernized “rave parties” that are gaining popularity among the young and glamorous (and those who wish they were) of Indian youth culture. After a recent crackdown on the use of illegal drugs in nightclubs, these parties have moved into residential neighborhoods where finding the evidence to perform a raid is more difficult to acquire. Though a good bit of celebrity gossip is never unappreciated, we can see the background for this trend of high-life partying in a variety of ways.

Every country’s drug habits are at the mercy of the international drug trade and trends of the surrounding area. India has a growing opium trade, with the agriculture of illegal poppies an appealing option for those in poor, rural areas. In 2007, India was named one of the 20 major hubs of illegal drug traffic along with a number of its neighboring countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Burma in the east. Trade routes between these countries are common along India’s northern boarder, creating an even higher availability of drugs in the country. Though India is often used as a way station for drug traffickers, it is not Indians who control this trade but Nigerians or US nationals who produce and direct the sale of drugs. This said, the demand for new drugs is rising, particularly in Asia, leaving India subject to the changing trends. Designer drugs made of synthetic chemicals and amphetamines are the new way to party, leading Indian youth away from the classic ‘problem drug’ of opiates. At the last national survey in 2000-01 there were 70 million drug users in the country, but of course then the most popular drugs were ganja, hashish, opium and heroin. While the number of opiate users rose from 22% to 42% between 2000 and 2009, those who use synthetic drugs grew to account for 15% of reported users in far less time.

In addition to the wide availability of drugs, the upper-middle class of India has been growing. With the transportation of jobs from the West and a slight, but notable, increase in social mobility, the new money generation of India is a long awaited change in the socially troubled country. This has lead to a so-called “white-collar addiction” developing in the country. Similar to the drug culture seen in other economic giants, many young professionals in India are moving towards drug use because of stress, peer pressure and disposable incomes. Drug traffickers are quite willing to take advantage of this emerging market. It is not simply the increase of income found in some Indian circles that causes the rampant use of synthetic hallucinogenic, but the extremely low cost of drugs like LSD that are picking up popularity with young people without handfuls of spending money. It is not simply the drug use that is troubling, but the lack of public information on the influences of these drugs and, in part, the absence of horror stories about bad trips that are part of Western drug folklore. India doesn’t have a tradition of heavy drinking, in fact it is still widely considered inappropriate for women to drink at all, but hiding a drug habit is much easier for young people in the face of disapproving family members. The physical and verbal attacks of club and pub going men and women in India are part of a system of ‘moral policing’ that has been historically prevalent in India. This has moved these activities out of downtown clubs and into residential areas, stemming from a party mentality into more consistent drug use.

While the concern over the increase in “rave party” behavior is mostly cultural, India is preparing itself for the practical consequences of increased synthetic drug use. Drugs like MDMA and PCP have a strong effect on cases of domestic violence and any form of excessive drugs or drinking can lead to unprotected sex, putting individuals at risk to contract HIV. In response to the increased cases of drug dependency and dangerous new drugs arriving on the market, the Indian government is working on the first national policy of prevention of substance abuse. This policy will introduce more de-addiction centers, school programs on drug abuse to raise awareness among student, teachers and parents, and cooperation between various ministries to reduce drug demand.