Time to set up National University of Narcotics Sciences (NUNS)?

Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon IRS/Dr. H. Hari Kishore Bhat

7 min read
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Representation Image | AFP

India is silently facing a major opioid and drug use crisis even during this Covid pandemic! Yes, you read it right!

Central and State enforcement agencies are regularly making seizures of huge quantities of illegal drugs of all kinds. Press reports indicate that many youngsters, both boys and girls, are getting addicted to drugs in a big way. The volume of reported seizures also throws light on the increasing number of consumers that the drug trade is attracting. However, what is more glaring is the inadequate treatment facilities, rehabilitation centres in India for drug addiction and centres for providing knowledge on drug abuse.

The National Drug Use Survey conducted by AIIMS in 2019 comes to an alarming conclusion that drug misuse is pervasive in Indian society. Alcohol, cannabis, opium and heroin are the major drugs misused in India, says the report. Buprenorphine, propoxyphene and heroin are the most commonly injected drugs. The potential number of people seeking treatment—about 0.5 million opiate users, 2.3 million cannabis users, and 10.5 million alcohol users—is a serious challenge for India at present. There is a huge shortage of psychiatrists. There are only 4,000–4,500 psychiatrists in India and not all are involved in de-addiction treatment. Clinical psychologists and Counsellors are also scarce on ground. Sufficient and affordable rehabilitation centres are not available for the common man.

How do we address this pertinent and percolating situation?

Presently, USA is the only country having a full-fledged university, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) dedicated wholly to the study of drug use, addiction, genetics and social mechanisms.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is the world's largest research institution dedicated to funding research on drugs of abuse, prevention of drug abuse, and treatment of substance abuse disorders.

The FY 2021 President's Budget request for NIDA is $1,431.8 million. NIDA funds more than 85 percent of the world's research about the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction. NIDA undertakes extensive surveys, notably, DAWN, or the Drug Abuse Warning Network, The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which is an annual study of American drug use patterns, and the Monitoring the Future Survey, which surveys high school seniors, 8th and 10th graders. One of NIDA's most important achievements has been the use of science to clarify central concepts in the field of drug abuse. Also, NIDA has supported many treatments for drug addiction. NIDA-supported studies led to the use of nicotine patches and gums for nicotine addiction treatment. NIDA scientists also developed LAAM, which is used for heroin addiction treatment. Other treatments that were the subject of NIDA research include naltrexone and buprenorphine.

NIDA also has a monopoly on the production of medical marijuana for research purposes, and a monopoly on the supply of research-grade marijuana. It administers a contract with the University of Mississippi to grow the nation's only legal cannabis crop for medical and research purposes.

Why should India not set up a facility like NIDA, which will be the first of its kind outside the USA?

The devastating effects of substance abuse are being felt in the Sub-continent. Many medical professionals have come to view drug abuse as an epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives. Addiction doesn't take a break, is without restrictions, and is an unbiased force. It seeps into every society, and affects family, friends, and peers. Another facet is, drug abuse in the workplace, to escape from work stress, boredom, and tensions. India does not have a nodal centre that can cater to creating public awareness, academic support, therapeutic needs, research and be a support to the governmental and non-governmental organizations Presently, no such program in India or for that matter in any SAARC Countries is available.

This is the right time to set up a Narcotics & Psychotropic Substances University in India for the study of Narcotics, Psychotropic Substances and New Psychoactive Substances, in order to promote long-term and sustainable capacity building in the fight against Narcotics through supporting national structures and action. The university will be the torch bearer for providing technical assistance in capacity building, prevention and awareness raising, international cooperation, and data collection, research and analysis on Narcotic substances trade.

It will strive hard to formulate a National Drug and Narcotic Education Strategy to nullify emerging threats to public health using government and non-government machinery. It will be a multi-disciplinary, thematically integrated, and employee synergistic approach to curb the Drug addiction and abuse problem and to create public health awareness as a part of University Social Responsibility. The university will also help to create a pool of Drug and Narcotic Councillors for the future to disseminate knowledge and create a task force in every nook and corner of the country. The overarching aim of the university will be to develop, implement, and enable the broad usage of computational technology (algorithms, methods, software, and tools) for enhancing the effectiveness of drug abuse research, both on a local level and at the national and international level, in order to achieve the long-term goal of translating advances in computational chemistry, biology, and genomics toward the development of novel personalized drug abuse therapeutics.

For the above purpose, the university will function under five broad categories 1. Academic 2. Research 3. Clinical Rehabilitation 4. Community / Public Health Awareness. 5. National Policy Assist centre

The university will also be a nodal training centre to create and train Drug and Narcotic Counsellors, and Substance Abuse Counsellors. There will be an international standard Centralized Drug Dependence Treatment Centre and an International standard Narcotics Drug Laboratory to improve the national forensic capacity and capabilities. To help enforcement agencies, an international standard Narcotic Canine Training Centre will also be set up. The university will also provide academic support for setting up of Drug Abuse Rehabilitation Centres countrywide of international standard.

On the academic front the university will offer appropriate degree, post-graduate, and research programs designed to create a pool of specialized Narcotic Drug Counsellors, whose knowledge and skill will not only be available for the nation but also for the benefit of all nations. The objective of all the programs will be to provide an understanding of drug use and its influence on society. The students will explore sociological theories to explain drug addiction. The course will additionally create an opportunity for students to learn terminology concerning drugs, associated behaviours, dangers, criminal relationships, class stratification, and the impact of drugs.

The students will get empowered to articulate on a variety of social, individual and bio-chemical factors that impact drug consumption as well as how these factors influence the drug's effect. Also, understand the process of the social construction of drug use that develops into a social problem. Develop a deep familiarity with the various biological, psychological and sociological theories that seek to explain drug using behaviour; including an analysis of their basic assumptions, limitations, and implications for social policy. The courses will also give deep knowledge of various drugs, both legal and illegal, used in Indian society, as well as the social reality that surrounds their use.

Collaboration with enforcement agencies like Police, Customs, Forest, Excise, Intelligence agencies like IB, RAW, DRI, CBI, NCB, Central Bureau of Narcotics, Government Opium & Alkaloid Factories, Department of Revenue, Narcotics Division, NACIN – Faridabad, and Coast Guard. Another innovative course would be setting up and training of Canine Squads for State Police, CRPF, CISF, Customs, and BSF.

The university will also be a nodal centre for Forensic Drug Abuse Identification, and for this purpose enter into collaboration with State Forensic Laboratories, Central Forensic Science Laboratories (CFSL) and Central Revenue Laboratory.

The university will also boast of a Neuroproteomics Centre, to encourage young investigators working in laboratories to embark on careers in substance abuse research, disseminate the Centre’s core technologies to researchers investigating the neurobiology of addiction who are not yet using Neuroproteomics technologies, and to expand the technical abilities of the Centre. A Centre for Systems Neurogenetics of Addiction (CSNA) will facilitate research to identify the biological relationships between the stages and patterns of cocaine addiction and behaviours that predict drug abuse.

The Translational research of Addiction and Integrative Neurosciences Laboratory, will be engaged in Translation of science-based addictions knowledge into improved prevention, assessment and treatment, and communication of these changes to researchers and practitioners.

There would be an exclusive centre devoted to research in Medical Marijuana and international collaborations entered into with universities in Israel, Canada and South Korea, where extensive research is being conducted on the same subject.

Another area of research will be Hemp. Marijuana is used for medicinal or recreational purposes, whereas Hemp is used in variety of other applications. These include healthy dietary supplements, skin products, clothing, and accessories. Overall, hemp is known to have over 25,000 possible applications. Hemp is an attractive rotation crop for farmers. As it grows, hemp breathes in CO2, detoxifies the soil, and prevents soil erosion. What’s left after harvest breaks down into the soil, providing valuable nutrients? Hemp requires much less water to grow, and no pesticides, so it is much more environmentally friendly than traditional crops.

Thus, the proposed Narcotics University, will be a unique institution, in India, that will explore the fundamental and essential questions about drug abuse — from detecting and responding to emerging drug abuse trends and understanding how drugs work in the brain and body, to developing and testing new approaches to treatment and prevention. It will support research training, career development, public education, public-private partnerships.

Central government, State governments, Deemed-to-be-universities, private universities, all can explore the possibility of setting up a university, exclusively devoted to the study of narcotics & psychotropic substances. Alternatively, even, the existing central universities, state universities, and other types of universities, as also Medical Colleges, para medical colleges, and autonomous institutions, can set up exclusive centres dedicated for the study of narcotics. This would be a unique field of study, and help institutions get better rankings in national and international evaluations.

Let’s all take steps before drug abuse becomes another pandemic in itself!

Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon IRS (RTD) Ph.D. (Narcotics) is Former Director General, National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics,
& Multi-Disciplinary School of Economic Intelligence India, Fellow, James Martin Centre for Non- Proliferation Studies, USA. Fellow, Centre for International Trade & Security, University of Georgia, USA. He can be erached at shreemenon48@gmail.com

Dr. H. Hari Kishore Bhat, is Project Director, Centre for Craniofacial Anomalies, Yenepoya - ABMSS- DCKH Cleft Centre, Associate Professor, Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Yenepoya Dental College, Yenepoya (Deemed to be University), Mangalore.

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