Families enmeshed in illegal trade of prescription drugs
KATHMANDU, Feb 9: Rabin Shrestha, 27, and Sarita Thapa, 25, of Naya Bazaar, Kathmandu are husband and wife serving jail terms for involvement in trafficking various prescription drugs and narcotics.
After the police nabbed Rabin and sent him to custody, his wife Sarita stepped in to run the unlawful business. But soon she was also arrested after the police caught her and recovered different types of hard pharmaceutical drugs from her possession.
Narcotics Control Bureau, the government´s principal agency entrusted to check illegal trade in drugs, has come across several similar cases where husband and wife and many times the entire family is engaged in illegal trade of banned substances.
Officials at the Bureau say they have strong evidences that point to the involvement of at least a dozen married couples involved in drugs trafficking.
“Many more are under our scrutiny,” said Ghanashyam Shrestha, a police inspector at the Bureau.
Despite the strict rules and regulations to control drug trafficking, there has been an alarming increase in the trend of whole family members being involved in drugs smuggling, said Shrestha.
Officials at the Bureau frequently cite the case of Gambhir Man Shrestha of Sindhupalchowk district who led a drug trafficking ring in the Valley for more than 12 years.
When the police conducted an in-depth investigation into the linkages and channels of his drugs business, they found out that he had enlisted not only his wife and sons but also the daughter-in-laws all of whom were actively involved in the illegal trade.
Other such cases include that of Birat Nepali of Kathmandu, who started dealing with pharmaceutical drugs after the arrest of his wife and Lal Kumari Puri of Bara who took over the drug trafficking business of her husband Hussain Ansari after he was arrested for possessing brown sugar.
Most of those arrested say they are compelled to get involved in the illegal business after the arrest of the only breadwinner of their family. When the head of a family is nabbed, other members are suddenly thrown into an uncertain future with no mean of earning. So, the easiest way out of such predicament is for the family members to get involved in the businesses as they are aware of the network, inspector Shrestha said on the basis of the statements of arrested drug traffickers.
Nepal´s open-border with India has also been a major factor in instigating new drug traffickers to enter the business as many pharmaceutical drugs are imported from India through various routes.
According to a recent study of the bureau, Diazepam and Buprenorphine top the list of pharmaceutical drugs that are illegally imported mainly from India.
Since the demand for pharmaceutical drugs is always high, many families are involved in the business.
Many of the arrested have been found possessing various over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs such as Avil, Spasmo, Fenargan, Corex, Nitrojesic, Norejesic, which are frequently misused by drug abusers mixing them with the prescription drugs such as diazepam, buprenorphine, nitrozepam for much more effect.
The lapses in effective categorization and distribution of prescription and over-the-counter drugs in Nepal have made it easier for people to enter the illegal trade to make quick money, inspector Shrestha said, adding, no wonder the involvement of whole family members in selling hard drugs is on the rise.
Acts needs amendments-Advocate Malla
Though the drug control initiatives were started since 1960, even after several amendments in the Narcotic Drug Control Act 2033 (1976), the provisions related to penalizing drug traffickers and abusers are not scientific and are insufficient to deal with the current situation, according to the advocate Hemant Malla.
“Until and unless there are proper legal provisions to punish the criminals, the problem will continue to rise,” said Malla.
The current acts related to drug control was taken from Indian constitution but the part that speaks about punishments for criminals has been missing, he added.
“Just sending the accused to prison will not solve the problem. Unfortunately, the state is convinced that it is the only solution,” he said. “There must be a special court to hear such cases.”
If the problem is not dealt with effectively, the popular notion that Kathmandu is a heaven for drug traffickers and abusers will come true, which will tarnish the image of our capital city, he said.
“Government must come up with strict and scientific panelizing system”
Deputy Inspector General and chief of Narcotics Control Bureau
What is your current assessment of drug abuse situation in the country?
Basically, the bureau is focusing on how to control the supply of different types of drugs in the country. We have been working day and night as there has been a rise in drug abuse and trafficking. The most worrisome fact is that many parents are unaware of their children´s addiction and abuse of drugs. We will have a society that is free of drug abuse only if the parents and other stakeholders cooperate.
Despite government efforts, why is the illegal cultivation, production, trafficking and sale of narcotics drugs proliferating?
Yes, our attempts to control them have not been successful because the mechanism of demand and supply has changed but enforcement methods have remained the same. The government alone cannot address the problem.
We lack proper equipments and resources to nab big traffickers and dealers who operate in an organized way.
What are the major challenges in curbing the growing trends?
There has not been proper collaboration among the government agencies and other stakeholders. Because of its limited budget, the Drug Control Program (DCP) has not become as effective as we want it to be. On the other hand, we have unclear legal provisions that are unscientific and inadequate to address the current trends.
For example, punishments are handed down on the basis of quantity. Someone found possessing 10 kg heroin faces similar charges as the one carrying 1 kg of the same substance, which is not scientific. The act needs to be amended.
Do you have specific plans to deal with the situation?
Definitely. We have been debating on the justice and punishment system related to the problem and we hope to win some legal amendments in near future. We need to pay informants and deploy huge resources to reach the major criminals.
But this has been hindered because of budget crunch. We are working to develop experts and trainers to handle the current situation. We are also requesting different educational authorities and stakeholders to develop the educational curriculum in order to inform their students about the dangers of abuse.