Last year, we briefly mentioned about the drug abuse problem in India and how it is evident that an employer today cannot avoid hiring drug users, however accidentally. With over 200 million drug addicts, India is the largest heroin hub as per the UN report 2011. From cough syrups to Lomotil tablets, India is sitting on a drug time bomb and is ready to explode. Firmly in the grip of a drug epidemic, drugs are available for as low as INR 25 at local pharmacies and bookstores. As the society is degenerating, drug addicts live in a day’s stupor. The rich but ruined land of North India is a classic example, among Nagaland, Mizoram, West Bengal and Kerala. These states are the main transit points which peddle drugs across the nation. For instance, in the North, upon receipt of cross-border drugs at near midnight, they are transported to the Delhi/NCR region in wee hours reaching the customer as early as 9 or 10 am. Perhaps, just in time for their daily work.
DISSECTING THE NATIONWIDE PROBLEM
India has more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35. Though, the youth demographic is a blessing but it also increases the risk of a drug induced population. School/College goers and young employees who get hooked to this menace at an early age, find it difficult to quit it over the years due to increasing stress levels. It is estimated that by 2020, India would become the world’s youngest country with 64% of its population in the working age group. Thus, if the productive age group remains addicted to drugs for years to come, the situation is very bleak for the nation, economy and business. As businesses are at the grassroot of the aforementioned cycle, it is highly recommended that they screen their employees for drugs substance abuse. Mostly, businesses suffer when employees come to work in an inebriated state. Productivity decreases, and there is an increased risk of injuries and assaults. Substance abuse can not only hinder an employee’s ability to perform their job duties safely, accurately and effciently, but can lead to serious consequences. They bring with them their substance abuse problem and also resort to consuming them during breaks or lunch.
Since 1980s, India has been an important transit route to some of the biggest producers of heroin and cannabis i.e. the Golden Triangle (Myanmar-Laos-Thailand) and the Golden Crescent (Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran) has increased the country’s vulnerability to drug trafficking. Indigenous production of these drugs has shaped demand in neighbouring countries, thus, leading to availability of multiple substances for consumption. From the presence of psychotropic to prescription drugs; trends and patterns of drug consumption show that there is a gradual shift to synthetic drugs. Moreover, working-class neighbourhoods have highest concentrations of pharmaceutical drug users. With India being the world’s cheapest producer of pharmaceutical drugs, cheap over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are easily accessible without prescription leading to misuse of high-risk drugs.
As a result, the Indian sub-continent is a victim of illicit cross-border drug trafficking and substandard regulatory framework for OTC drugs. Additionally, abuse and trafficking of synthetic and new psychoactive substances are causing serious challenges for healthcare providers and law enforcement agencies. The easy availability of drugs has given rise to severe drug problems over the last decade which has an adverse impact on valuable human lives and productive years of many. Running in the veins of adolescents and young adult drug addicts, is the itch for the next big hit.
The recent Hyderabad drug racket is testament to rampant substance abuse amongst the younger lot. From 13-year old school students to young techies employed in prominent IT firms, all were victims of psychotropic substances. The mammoth nexus of drug abuse in Hyderabad as described by peddlers is an open market where youngsters who are technically qualified, well-educated and well-paid buy drugs in bulk. Further, the peddlers confess that they were supplying drugs to well-off school children as young as 12 and also to the working class in their twenties and thirties who have qualifications from prominent universities. Besides, there exists a large online drug market on the Dark Web providing doorstep delivery. Most online vendors charge payments in bitcoins which are untraceable. Given the widespread availability of drugs, India’s vulnerability to drugs and crime remains a grave concern for the society.
In addition, experts are of the opinion that high unemployment rate is fuelling a culture of drug use among the youth. There is a strong relationship between drug abuse and unemployment, the latter increases the probability of a person indulging in alcohol, cigarettes or drugs. The situation of unemployment holds true for the recent layoffs in the Information Technology industry and if and when the unemployed youth resort to substance dependency, this unfortunately creates a vicious cycle where the stress of being jobless makes it difficult to stay clean and drug abuse makes it all the more difficult to find and stay put in a full-time job. These consequences are confirmed by drug testing labs who revealed that they receive 40,000 to 50,000 cases per month for pre/post-employment drug tests out of which 20% to 50% test positive for drug use. They further remarked that it is a rampant phenomenon across all industries – manufacturing, banking and finance, BPO and pharmaceuticals to name a few. Over the last decade, drug testing agencies have had to expand centres to even smaller districts and towns due to the pressing demand of their clientele, indicating that substance abuse is no more limited to metro cities.
UNDERSTANDING THE IMPACT
Drugs are essentially poisons. Either directly or indirectly, drugs alter the brain’s functionality. For example, drugs such as marijuana and heroin have a similar structure to neurotransmitters produced by the brain, as a result, drugs are able to deceive the brain’s receptors and activate nerve cells to transmit abnormal messages. As a person continues to abuse drugs, the brain gets accustomed to high levels of dopamine and eventually starts producing less dopamine. Further, drugs slow down motor skills, impact short-term memory, weaken the immune system, dry out the mouth and alter brain size. Moreover, excessive and prolonged consumption contributes to erratic behaviour, mental cloudiness, hyperactivity and suicidal tendencies.
Often, the younger a person is when they begin to abuse drugs, the higher the probability of developing an addiction. Upon consumption, drug lifts a person into a false feeling of cheerfulness, intense pleasure, clarity, high energy level, and good decision-making and planning ability. This deceptive perception is actually an excuse for increased drug abuse. In a modern society, everyone is on the lookout for immediate solutions even for the minutest of problems and this is where high-impact drugs get thrown in the way. Evidently, the consequences of substance abuse and dependency are worse than the problem that one is trying to solve. With tolerance levels dipping and apparent stress levels rising, individuals fall prey to this menace at an early age and as age advances, addiction rate increases making it hard to quit over the productive years of the individual.
There is a systematic ruination of an entire generation succumbing to the grip of drugs. A “drugged innocence” is the harsh reality of today’s youth. Streets are infested with peddlers who greet at bus stops, railway stations and pharmacies. In fact, Indian pharmacies are the biggest drug peddlers as they supply synthetic drugs without prescription.
Due to poorly enforced regulations, a growing number of people are using psychotropic and narcotic drugs recreationally. Thus, it is not a surprise that habit-forming substances are a chief cause of drop in performance behaviour or impairment on the job. Though many employers choose to turn a blind eye to drug misuse, the far-reaching problems hinder productivity, damage profits and cost jobs alongside degrading national health and security. Individuals who are dependent on potent drugs and over-prescribed painkillers to get through the day are clearly substance abusers. The gravity of the drug epidemic comes to light when employees turn to social media advice for passing a pre-employment drug test. From how to pass a drug test to where to score drugs from, online communities give step-by-step advice.
Moreover, the absence of State mechanisms further aggravates the problem. State-wise allocation of de-addiction centres is not proportionate to the number of drug addicts and these centres lack proper facilities where recovery rate is extremely low. Additionally, untrained and fake rehabilitation centres increase health hazards. The situation demands concerted action at all levels of the government. With drugs having infiltrated every nook and corner, the number of young addicts has skyrocketed. Besides, sale of drugs is brazen and is taking place with the blessing of local authority. More often than not, authorities are hand-in-glove with the drug mafia. The corrupt enforcement machinery allows eloquent distribution of drugs. Though, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985, criminalises drug use, however, many a times, owing to its technical loopholes, peddlers are set free. Thus, revised and stringent laws are necessary to cap and eventually eradicate drug usage.
Despite the severity of the situation, the issue of drug abuse in office place has not been given its due consideration, on the contrary, it is swept under the carpet under the pretext of moral and reputational grounds with no regard for health and safety hazards of drug misuse. The realms of abuse also extend to regular use of marijuana, heavy drinking, weekend binges, casual consumption of tranquilizers and even misuse of prescription drugs. With this, the employer has a responsibility towards its employees and clients to ensure that risks are mitigated.Intricate web of drug abuse has dug its talons deep into the corporate culture with increased stress levels surfacing to be a common excuse from Mumbai to Hyderabad where employees are also peddlers. From cultivating drugs plants in-house to forming a network of contraband drug suppliers, brings to fore a crisis that is surmounting the nation’s youth.
With drug dealers hiding in plain sight, the number of addicts is increasing in folds by the day. Certain addicts resort to stealing, thrashing and committing crimes to feed their addiction. A thriving domestic industry of synthetic drug factories makes drugs affordable for every pocket. Social fabric of the country has been slowly destroyed. Rise in the number of young drug abusers paints a grim picture as addicts are also last mile dealers. India, one of the largest food-producing nations is reaping a harvest most bitter. To prevent drug dens from creating a glut of wasted youth, grassroot movements are necessary to counter the drug abuse epidemic. The country needs a set of tougher rules and regulations at the judicial level which have zero tolerance to narcotics. Furthermore, drug addiction needs to be treated as a disease and not a social stigma. All addicts should have access to treatment and the Government needs to provide better services and opportunities to drug using population alongside investing in drug demand reduction strategies.
India is a party to the three United Nations drug conventions – the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961 Convention), the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971 Convention) and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988 Convention). However, it was only in 1985 that the Indian Parliament passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS). Though the NDPS was enacted to provide adequate penalties for drug trafficking and to strengthen enforcement powers, it falls short of appropriate and necessary punishments due to quantity-based sentencing under which most perpetrators easily prove that they possess drugs for medicinal reasons. Additionally, in a majority of cases the prosecution failed to get accused persons convicted due to violations of Section 50 of the Act under which it is required to serve written notice on the accused informing him or her right of personal search before a gazetted officer or magistrate.
The Act makes no distinction between soft and hard drugs alongside penalties depending on quantity of drugs seized. These measures have done very little to deter drug use. Needless to say, it is time to reform India’s archaic drug laws.
With regards to de-addiction centres, India has 934 centres in 215 cities and 30 states in India (http://deaddictioncentres.in/ ). However, these are not enough to treat the 200 million drugs addicts. Furthermore, this number of centres is not inclusive of affordable treatment centres at district level which to-date lack proper facilities. More than 65 percent of de-addiction centres lack standard treatment and care facilities increasing chances of relapse among drug addicts as most centres do not follow norms and are not sufficiently trained to tend to medical and mental needs of patients during the treatment. This gap in demand and supply makes room for fake and illegal de-addiction centres which operate without a valid licence and illegally confine patients. These centres hoard medicines and sharp-edged weapons often used to torture patients and also lack qualified doctors. Such centres mistreat patients and supply drugs to them, eliminating any chance of recovery.
At the corporate level, companies seldom exercise a Substance Abuse Policy. Quite often, employees found abusing drugs or indulging in excessive alcohol consumption are let off with a warning or barred from working on a certain project. On an average, no adverse action is taken against employees found guilty of drug consumption. Cases of overmedication are more rampant in the country and employers refrain from investigating these cases under the pretext of defamation based on false reports of addiction. However, there are certain companies like MeriPustak in Delhi which has a stringent Alcohol and Drug Policy that has zero tolerance to the use of alcohol, drugs and cigarettes in the premises and during work hours. Though, some may see it as a harsh rule, on the contrary, it ensures a safe and healthy working environment.
However, the catch remains in identifying drug induced demeaning behaviour that leads to a mood-altering and extreme personality. The new breed of lethal mind-altering drugs do not have the conventional tell-tale signs. From their physical state (odourless and colourless) to the reaction they generate in an individual, these are quite difficult to be identified by a layman. Thus, it is imperative to run frequent drug tests on individuals, especially in a corporate environment. On an average drug abusers are 3.6 times more likely to be involved in an accident, crime or violence at work. This behaviour is not only disturbing for the concerned manager but for the entire organisation and can somewhere down the line, affect one or a group of employees. Further, drug abuse can seriously compromise the integrity and stability of workplace.
Moreover, the deadly concoction of drugs and job calls for implementation of an effective workplace drug program that involves drug testing before hiring, drug testing during employment and consequences for violating the company rules.
Further, Drug Testing and Educational Programs can also be effective in reaching out to employees who have an addiction problem and to those who might be prone to developing a problem, through counselling. Additionally, it helps increase employee morale, decrease workplace accidents, decrease cost of insurance, protect and improve client’s confidence and convey a strong message of zero tolerance to narcotics. Also, if the supervisors are well-versed with the program’s procedures then they can educate and train employees in their individual departments. Furthermore, they would be well-equipped while confronting an addicted em-
1.Panel 6: Panel 5 + Propoxyphene
2. Panel 7: Panel 5 + Barbiturates and Propoxyphene
3. Panel 8: Panel 5 + Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, Propoxyphene and Methaqualone
4. Panel 9: Panel 5+ Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, Methadone and Propoxyphene
5. Panel 10: Panel 5 + Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, Methadone, Propoxyphene and Methaqualone
6. Panel 11: Panel 5 + Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, Methadone, Ecstasy (MDMA), Oxycontin and Methamphetamine
7. Panel 12: Panel 5 + Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, Methadone, Propoxyphene and Methaqualone + Oxycodone and Meperidine
Aforementioned wide range of Drug Test Panels covers a variety of drugs. However, labs recommend Panel 5, 9 and 10 for tests through urine, these are also the most commonly test panels in India. Besides, Drug Test through hair samples is quite effective as it can detect drug abuse over a wider window of 3 months as compared to a 2-3 day window in case of a urine drug test.
A thorough and conscious effort by the Human Resource community is perhaps the answer to a plummeting job market and deteriorating social environment. Round the clock drug tests and open discussions to help curb drug abuse at workplace can act as catalysts in overcoming this epidemic to a large extent. Acceptance and prevention of human capital downfall to drug abuse can help yield positive results and even curb the problem by manifold.