Kerala’s anti-drug campaign now focuses on schools, colleges amid rising drug abuse among youth

With drug abuse on the rise among youth, as many as 4,557 youth below the age of 18 have undergone de-addiction treatment under the Excise Department’s Vimukthi Mission in the last three-and-a-half years.

This worrying trend is forcing the ministry to change course in its anti-drug campaign, focusing on schools and colleges.

Under the Vimukthi scheme, every district in the state has a de-addiction centre staffed by counsellors.

Since October 2018, when the facility opened, around 1,19,56 people have received treatment at these centers. Of these, 9,909 have received inpatient treatment, according to a report by The New Indian Express.

VA Pradeep, Deputy Commissioner of Excise in charge of the Vimukthi programme, said that a large number of youngsters are undergoing de-addiction at Vimukthi centres. However, many parents are still reluctant to seek help for their children’s drug addiction.

“As per the NDPS Act, juveniles arrested in drug cases are required to undergo mandatory therapy at Vimukthi, after which the prosecution action against them is dropped. A number of parents have approached us seeking help to help their children overcome drug addiction. If such bad habits are detected at an early stage, children have a high chance of recovering from their addiction. However, due to social stigma, several parents are still reluctant to provide medical care to their children,” he said.

Between January 2023 and March 2024, as per excise data, 9,889 cases under NDPS Act and 23,387 cases under Abkari Act were registered in the state. Most of the NDPS cases were registered in Ernakulam (1,141), Kottayam (1,014) and Alappuzha (871) districts.

As part of the 14-day inpatient programme, each participant must have a guardian at the detox centre. Children from dysfunctional families are more vulnerable to drug addiction, says Pradeep.

“We have seen children who hate their parents fall into the hands of drug traffickers. The role of parents is crucial in rehabilitation,” he said.

A senior excise official in Ernakulam district said around 40 per cent of those seeking detoxification were below 21 years of age.

“Most children start using drugs from their peers. Some consider it a fad. By the time many realise their folly, the addiction will have turned their lives upside down. We have arrested many traffickers who were targeting schoolchildren and students. More and more women are also approaching us to join the programme,” he said.