Recently two British young newly-weds were found dead in their hotel in India after intoxicating themselves with drugs. The couple had boasted on social media about how accessible codeine, valium, xanax and lyrica are in comparison to the UK.
It’s true, you could go to India and find such drugs available over the counter. It leads to abuse. It leads to tourists OD’ing. It leads to the people of India popping pills every time they feel a slight twinge –“just to be safe” – making the drugs ineffective when they really need them.
This is just scratching the surface. There’s another side to India’s drug problem.
Last Christmas, I flew to India as my Grandmother suddenly fell ill. It was difficult enough taking this so unexpectedly but when it was known she wouldn’t make it through, the hospital said they didn’t have licenses to administer morphine. This hit us hard. In a country where drugs are so easy to find – they couldn’t give her something to make her last days peaceful.
Regretting that I hadn’t spent more time with her meant that I wanted to spend every moment with her. So I did. I became so attached as I sat by her bed and tried to soothe her. But those days and nights hurt because I was scared, I was scared that she was suffering. To make her more at peace, my family brought her home. I stayed by her side in her final moments – she passed away in the early hours of the next morning.
Deep sadness and anger I’ve never felt before has been running through me ever since. When I returned to the UK, I began to research. I had to find a way to understand this better – to turn the anger and sadness into some energy that could do something positive. I thought if I could be smart enough, strong enough or stable enough, I could figure this out and try to help. I thought this would help me cope and in my mind I refuse to grieve until I take this forward.
I discovered that in 1985, as a response to widespread drug-abuse, India made attempts to make put the strictest restrictions on the strongest of drugs through legislation – Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Bill (NDPS).
I began to find articles looking at the policy, licensing and the challenges faced for palliative care. I learnt about morphine and how it is taken from the extract of the poppy straw or the plants latex (opium). India is responsible for producing 90% of the world’s morphine yet only 1% of it’s dying patients have access to it. Many hospitals don’t have licences to administer these drugs
Around the time of India’s national election, I began to be vocal. I spoke of my love for India but how my heart will remain broken until they sort out these things out. I was interviewed by a journalist covering the election and asked what India needed. Self-aware of my personal circumstances and state of mind, I humbled my views: “India’s development is impressive but I will be more impressed when India’s people can have strong infrastructure supporting their basic needs.” You see, I had to be smart enough, strong enough and stable enough before I could try and take this particular matter forward with action.
Rahul Gandhi, electoral candidate for Congress spoke of how “poverty is state of mind”. Once upon a time, I may have naively understood having seen India’s poorest hold more happiness in their smiles than those living in the richest cities of the world. But whilst it’s possible to live in bliss with very little material – tragedy strikes when healthcare that is needed, isn’t there. And it feels to me, disingenuous that India is hailed for it’s advances when the basic needs for people aren’t there. It hurts inside. It’s a strange kind of hurt where you want to scream, but you understand that things aren’t as simple – it takes longer to untie decades of issues than it does to put something in place for the first time.
To Narendra Modi, India’s new leader, India’s drug problem is affecting so many. Let people die in peace, free from suffering. The world takes note of your tourists suffering when they come to India and harm themselves. I watched your people suffer – my Grandmother. I watched your diaspora suffer – my Father. There is turbulence in the hearts of many others too. I feel it in every moment of every day.
It’s been a year now. I’ve come to learn that I will never be smart enough, strong enough or stable enough to solve India’s drug problem. And time doesn’t heal everything.
I don’t give up but having a year pass and nothing done I need to take a step in another direction. So I chose to share this story and ask if there’s anyone who’s doing work on this or knows what amendments if any, have been passed on NDPS, to get in touch. Coverage on this seems low – it would be positive to hear more voices and if there are any developments on this.
If there’s one thing that I’ve certainly inherited from my Grandmother is an indomitable resilience. And I wish to use that resilience to support and work with anyone in making a change in palliative care in India.
This is just one tiny part of what I observed in India, but it’s a part that I’m sure breaks the hearts of many. There is a lot of pain in my words but it is not without hope. It is something I believe India can do something about and this is why I chose to speak out today.