The crackdown on drug-related offences leading to more arrests and seizure may be seen as an achievement, but the scale of the illegal business and the sheer number of people involved indicate a deeper problem. 

If, in less than two weeks, 86 people were arrested or detained for drug-related offenses, it indicates the extent of the problem. This happened during a crackdown. Planned crackdowns would obviously result in more arrests, but we should not bask in the success of a large number of arrests.

It lays bare the extent of the problem. For instance, eight of the 86 individuals detained in two weeks were minors. Then there are increasing numbers of women, public servants, and even monks engaged in the illicit trade. 

We are not a drugged society, as many may be convinced based on the number of arrests and images of offenders in front of thousands of tablets laid on a table and shared through social media. We know that the greed for quick money is driving people into the illicit trade. Therefore, people from all walks of life try their luck, risking arrest and punishment.

Despite concerted efforts from authorities, the number of offenders is on the rise. Last year, the police arrested 1,557 people engaged in the drug trade, from smugglers to abusers. It has already reached 1,511 in the first six months of this year. It could be a record, with or without a crackdown.

All this happened when we were attending to “bigger concerns” like emigration to Australia, pay revision for civil servants, elections to the National Council, dwindling foreign exchange reserves, soaring inflation, austerity measures and so on. The drug problem needs more than police crackdowns for a solution.

While we acknowledge the efforts of the police, it is time we question ourselves why it cannot be stopped or why it is attracting more people even with stringent laws or surveillance. At the core of it is the source of the banned substances. Many wonder how a semi-educated hawker in Jaigaon can manage to sneak in thousands of SP pills under the surveillance of closed-circuit TV, strict border controls, and improved security infrastructure. A few, overwhelmed by the problem, wonder if it is a deliberate attempt to ruin a country with a huge young population.

The figures indicate that a growing number of people, especially youth, are sinking into a life of drugs and, therefore, crime. This is a bigger concern than many others.

A decade ago, the excuse could have been the lack of professional capability and institutions and the civilian awareness to deal with such a complex issue. We are better off today, but the problem is only increasing.

The good thing is that we know the cause – the source of drugs. Breaking the chain or stopping the problem at the source could be an accomplishment. This can possibly be achieved if we all play a part and do not leave it to the police alone or their occasional crackdowns. It would be a big irony for a country known for propagating gross national happiness as a yardstick for measuring growth when a huge population is falling victim to increasing drug-related problems.

The issue today is clearly the trend of increasing and complex drug-related problems, rather than just the numbers.