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14 September, 2015 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 13 September, 2015 09:23:01 PM
The yaba crisis is creating a society of addicts in Bangladesh that will have detrimental and long term effects on this country. Higher crime rates, a rise in violence, and unsafe sexual practices are just some of the repercussions already felt by the widespread abuse of this vicious drug

The yaba epidemic in Bangladesh

The yaba epidemic in Bangladesh

A couple of years back a double murder sent shockwaves throughout the country. Oishi Rahman, a teenager murdered her parents. The girl was yaba addict and according to psychologists persons taking yaba undergo vast changes in the neuro-transmitters of their brains. This changes their personality, and apparently Oishee was a victim of that. The teenager had become accustomed to going out and taking yaba with her friends.
Her policeman father became aware that something was up, so he grounded her. So frustrated was Oishee with her punishment that she drugged both her parents with high doses of sedatives-- and once they were sound asleep, she stabbed them to death. She had locked up her younger brother in the bathroom as he saw her murdering them. She threatened and compelled her housemaid, to assist her in the murders. Since that murder several similar incidents have been reported in the media.
No normal person kills his/her parents or wives or children or any others. In case of parents or children this will happen only when the person is unhinged and drugs make people do the craziest of things. Almost all research shows that most addicts suffer from mental disorder and even habitual recreational users also suffer from personality disorder. In fact, drugs often are seen as a form of escape from mental agony for many and of course this leads to further agony and ultimately mental breakdown. It is particularly so in the case of children and during teenage years as this is when brain is being formed.  That is why, so many criminals are addicts or mental patients. It is not their personal loss of morality that causes them to act but that they lose their mental balance. For the yaba and other hardcore drug users little matter except the next fix.
These days drug abuse and its consequences are being discussed quite openly in the media which is unusual in Bangladesh. People here have always tended to hide the problem which has assumed monstrous proportion. A number of murders by yaba addicts have taken place since then and alarmingly the trend of yaba abuse shows no signs on decreasing. There has been an incredible growth in the yaba trade since 2008. In that year the authorities seized some 36,000 pills. One year later, that number had risen to 130,000. There has been an exponential growth since then and in the various drug rehab centres in the country around sixty to seventy per cent of the inmates are yaba addicts. Bangladesh was perhaps the latest country in Asia to report a surge in use of a methamphetamine pill known as yaba, with research suggesting that  criminal syndicates in Burma are targeting users in the country.
Many Bangladeshi and Burmese nationals have started dabbling in yaba smuggling from the Bangladesh-Burma border. They are doing it as they realise the tremendous possibility for profits compared to working in normal, legitimate jobs. Yaba tablets are produced along the Burma-Thai border, and then smuggled to western Burma by cross-border syndicates on their way to Bangladesh.
Contrary to popular belief, the use of drugs, or rather its abuse is hardly a new phenomenon in this part of the world. For hundreds of years there have been people here who have indulged in soaking cannabis or ingesting opium. Ganja or cannabis and its derivatives were mostly limited to the lower echelon of the rural society. While the more affluent people opted for opium. Descriptions of opium consumption are quite common in the works of famous novelists like Saratchandra Chatterji, whop himself was open and unabashed about his own use.  However drug abuse became more pervasive in the mid 1960s and the 70s.  Then came the age of Phensidyl, a codeine based cough syrup. Codeine is and artificial opiate and became very popular. Until now that is. Now Yaba (also known as methamphetamine of just meth) is all the rage in the drug circuit here.
Unfortunately throughout the society, people are feeling the effects of Yaba which literally means “crazy drug” in Thai language (Thailand is the country where it originated). Today, yaba is one of the most abused drugs in South and Southeast Asia. Yaba is a mixture of methamphetamines and caffeine. Taking yaba produces intense feelings of euphoria and high levels of energy in the user. Despite its well known harmful effects, yaba has created one of the largest youth drug problems in the Bangladesh. The easy of access and relatively cheap price has fuelled yaba epidemic that is affecting individuals of all socio-economic classes. The effects of Yaba addiction can be felt by all sectors of society ranging from high powered business executives to construction workers, teenagers and those in their middle ages.
The symptoms of yaba addiction are fairly easy to pick up. The drug is highly stimulating, so it will keep users awake for unusual amounts of time. The bags under the eyes usually give an indication. Yaba suppresses hunger abnormally and will contribute to rapid weight loss with prolonged usage. While high, yaba users tend to be particularly focused and active. Unusual amounts of cleaning with more attention to detail could mean something. Also, users become much more talkative while they are high.
When the drug wears off, the utopia is quickly gone. The come down is harsh. This will lead to what appears to be mood swings in the user. It will be a radical change from euphoria to pure lethargy. If the money and yaba are gone, extended amounts of sleep may follow a very irritable period of time.
 Yaba is a derivative of synthetic amphetamines such as speed and can be manufactured far more quickly and easily than traditional forms of amphetamines.
The recipe of Yaba is available on the Net and the drug is being manufactured in Bangladesh. Unlike cocaine or heroin, which have to be grown, yaba can be "cooked" using utensils and ingredients available over the counter - cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, rock salt, solvents, ammonia and coffee filters. Yaba is composed of easily accessible ingredients which can be purchased over-the-counter at local drugstores. Its production is inexpensive, and the drug can be fabricated in a home-made laboratory, as is often the case.
According to reports Yaba tablets were first brought to Bangladesh from Chiang Mai, the northern capital of Thailand, in 1990, but trading of the drug started to really spread in 2000 due to a lack of law enforcement by the authorities concerned.  Before Yaba arrived on the seen addiction among girls was rare in Bangladesh. However, apparently as many, if not more girls, abuse yaba as their male counterparts. School and college age students are using it in the mistaken belief that it would boost performance while studying for exams.
An unfortunate aspect of yaba addiction as disclosures made by law enforcers from time to time show, the more posh the areas the more the addiction among youngsters. And the more ‘standard’ the schools and the universities the higher is the percentage of addiction among their pupils. A leading private university located in a posh residential area since its launching has opened a counselling wing to dissociate its students from getting addicted to drugs and help the addicts to give up the bad habit. Some better known English medium schools are known for taking harsh actions – like giving TCs (Transfer Certificates) to addicts to check the menace of addition.
 Type A personalities in fast-paced jobs use the drug because they (again mistakenly) believe it gives them an edge by boosting their mental as well as physical energy. Young women and teenage girls use it for weight loss. It is believed many models on the catwalk are abusing it freely with disastrous consequences.
Like Bangladesh, in other countries yaba or similar methamphetamine abusers have often been involved in homicide cases. Celebrated fashion designer, Gianni Versace, was murdered in front of his Miami Beach home in August 1997 by a meth-addict individual; the killers of Matthew Shepherd were high on meth when they tortured and murdered him; and Timothy McVeigh claimed to be under the drug’s influence when involved in the 1995 Oklahoma bombing. Cameron Taylor was reportedly high on meth when he hijacked a San Diego bus at knifepoint in 1997, leading a police chase over 70 miles in 2 1/2 hours before he was captured.
Initially at least yaba gained popularity because of its supposed aphrodisiac properties. Yaba users experience an intense burst of energy, followed by increased activity, decreased appetite and a general sense of well being. It supposedly increase sexual urge among the users and prolong the duration of lovemaking–indeed an attractive proposition for many. However regular yaba use may lead to irreversible impotence or frigidity.
Substance abuse has been prevalent in every society, and we can’t hope ours to be an exception. Even in the most conservative of societies there are people who regularly indulge in it. In Yemen, in spite of rigid Sharia law countless men are addicted to qat leaves which have narcotic properties. In the relatively permissive Western societies drug abuse is surely more frequent, but that does not mean people don’t indulges in societies similar to ours. As a matter of fact the ban on alcohol consumption may have led many with addictive personalities to opt for drugs, many of which are much more harmful than booze.
Yaba addiction is indeed one of the fastest growing drug epidemics in the world. It is estimated that there are over 30 million users in South and Southeast Asia alone. Yaba is the same drug known as “Shabu” in Japan and Indonesia, “Bingdu” in China and “Batu” in the Philippines. The yaba crisis is creating a society of addicts that will have detrimental and long term effects on this country. Higher crime rates, a rise in violence, and unsafe sexual practices are just some of the repercussions already felt by the widespread abuse of this vicious drug. Without treatment, yaba users are likely to experience extreme psychosis and ultimately harm themselves or others. Long-term users can experience physiological, psychological, and neurological damage that lasts long after the withdrawal period. Long-term effects also include depression, suicide, and heart attacks
As indicated earlier the norm here is to deny that the problem exists. The family members will never admit that one of their kin is addicted to drugs. This sort of attitude is a serious impediment in combating the problem. After all, the first thing one should do while dealing with any problem is to admit it exists.
As is well-known drug counselling facilities in this country are few and far between. The underlying belief in our society is that recovering from drug addiction boils down to an individual's willpower to overcome their addiction on their own. The government run drug programmes are understaffed and filled to capacity. Many of the private facilities also lack efficient counsellors and medicines. The fact of the matter is that yaba addiction creates severe physical and psychological problems in the user that need to be addressed by addiction professionals in order to ensure a healthy recovery. The battle against drug addiction is something no one can or indeed should have to face alone.  

The writer is Assistant Editor of The Independent and can be contacted at:



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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