Mushtaq Ahmad, 55, in the Indian-administered Kashmir was struck with tragedy last year when his younger son died of a drug overdose at the age of 17.
“We found him locked inside a washroom and when we opened the door, he was lying lifeless near the toilet,” Ahmad told Anadolu Agency on eve of International Day of Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking to be marked on June 26.
For Ahmad and his family, it was hard to believe that his son could be consuming drugs till the time he actually died.
“He always behaved like a normal child, there was hardly any change in his behavior, he studied well and was home on time but we never thought that he is addicted to something,” Ahmad said.
In conflict-torn Kashmir, drug abuse has been rampant with rehabilitation centers receiving nearly 40 to 70 new and follow-up patients every day.
“We are heading toward an unimaginable catastrophe,” Dr. Yasir Rather, a consulting psychiatrist who heads the Drug De-Addiction Centre at a tertiary hospital, told Anadolu Agency.
"Nearly 90% of cases are heroin users and 70% of them are using illicit drugs through Intravenous mode,” Rather said.
This mode of administration he said is dangerous and can lead to overdoses and deaths as it leads to the transmission of deadly infections like HCV, HBV, and HIV and also endocarditis, which is an infection of heart valves.
“It is an epidemic,” he said.
Ahmad hides the cause of his son’s death just to avoid the stigma and “criminal sense” that people attach to the victims of drug abuse.
“I always tell people, even my relatives, that my son died a natural death. I don’t want people to hate him or take him as a criminal just because he was trapped in this abuse,” Ahmad said while sobbing.
Immediate family members of those who die of drug overdose often cover it up to lessen the burden and societal shame that is attached to it.
However, experts say there is a need for proper investigation of death and the cause needs to be determined and recorded.
Presently, the hospitals in the Kashmir region lack any specific data on drug overdose deaths, and almost all of these deaths are attributed to heart attacks or road accidents.
“There is no proper aggregate record-keeping system that specifies that this death was caused by drug overdose,” Rather said.
He also noted that if this system can come up, it will help doctors in the long run in investigating and helping patients of abuse to understand the consequences.
Experts say already in just a few years, cardiac arrests among young people have drastically increased pointing to the rampant use of drugs, mainly the use of heroin and cocaine.
Siraj Ahmad, 23, was chasing heroin with his friend Sartaj Jan, 22, for the last two years.
In April this year, Jan died of a drug overdose. His body was found along a roadside, his friend Ahmad says.
To avoid social rejection, Jan's family told everyone that it was an accidental death.
However, Ahmad knew the cause and was heartbroken by the news of his friend's death.
"At that point, I decided to come out of this abuse," Ahmad said.
For nearly two months, Ahmad is detoxifying himself but he said it is tough for him to bear this pain.
"I want to live a drug-free life now," he said.
Experts say people need to join hands to avert this catastrophe.
"At every level, a holistic approach has to be taken to stop this growing menace. Otherwise, in just a few years we will be surpassing huge numbers in drug abuse cases," Nasir Geelani, a therapeutic counselor said.
* The names of the father of a drug abuse victim and the two friends have been changed.