On January 9, 2022, a Rohingya youth was arrested along with 5 lakh Yaba pills by Rapid Action Battalion-15 (RAB) in Ukhia, Cox’s Bazaar. Almost every day, all over the country, raids of various scales are taking place to control the drugs. Yet Bangladesh has been severely facing drug problems for a while now. Since the last decade, the number of drug users and drug abuse cases are increasing drastically. And new drugs such as crystal meth are finding their way into the country while old drugs such as Phensedyl are gradually growing in supply. Due to geographic location, lack of regional cooperation, and lack of capacity in law enforcement, the problem is growing quickly.
Due to its geographic location between three drug production and trafficking routes, Bangladesh is a target for producers and traffickers. Bangladesh is located between Golden Triangle (Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos), Golden Wedges (North-East India, Nepal, and Bhutan), and Golden Crescent (Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran). As a result, Drugs from various destinations find their way into Bangladesh easily. Currently, the popular drugs in Bangladesh are Yaba, Cannabis, Phensedyl, and LSD. Apart from these drugs, crystal meth is also becoming popular gradually.
Both Yaba and crystal meth are trafficked from Myanmar to Bangladesh, while Phensedyl is produced in India-Bangladesh Border. Since the last decade, Yaba has become a significant concern for Bangladesh. Yaba’s supply and demand skyrocketed quickly, especially after the Rohingya crisis. At present, Rohingya camps are being used for drug trafficking. Al Jazeera report published in 2018 also highlighted that Rohingya population are being used in drug trafficking.
Moreover, since the controversial ‘War on Drugs,’ the Teknaf route has become difficult for the traffickers. So, traffickers are using new route. At present, the Naikhyangchari route has become popular. Almost 80% of Yaba pills come through this route, and 70% are stored in the Rohingya camps first. According to the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC) Report, Approximately 1 million people are involved in drug business in Bangladesh in which, women and children are used as mule and youth are the customers.
Over the years, the number of drugs have increased drastically. The total seizure of Yaba was 36 thousand pieces in 2008, which increased to around 3 crore pieces in 2016, within only 8 years. The number of Phensedyl is also growing rapidly in recent years. In 2016, the total seizure of Phensedyl was 5.6 lakh bottles which rose to 9.76 lakh bottles in 2019; only within 3 years. And the number reached to 10 lakh bottles in 2020. Other drugs have also witnessed a subsequent increase in supply in this time. Newly introduced crystal meth is becoming more accessible over the years. Popularly known as ‘Ice,’ security agencies are now seizing crystal meth in big amounts. United Nations Office of Drug Control (UNODC) report suggests that crystal meth is produced in Myanmar and is finding its way to Bangladesh through border areas using the Yaba routes. Only in 2020, DNC and its Myanmar counterpart have seized 16.8 tonnes of ICE. Experts believe that Ice will be the next headache for Bangladesh if actions are not taken against it.
However, the supply didn’t increase alone. The number of drug users and drug abuse cases also increased in recent years suggesting that, the demand has also increased. In 2020, the approximate number of drug users in Bangladesh was 7.5 million among whom, 65% were between the ages of 15. In 1990, total drug users were 1 million only, which suggests that, only in 30 years, the number of users increased by 8 times. Moreover, in 2021, the number increased to more than 8 million due to pandemic, according to the Home Minister. The primary victims of these drugs are the youths between the ages of 15 to 35.
In the meantime, while supply is meeting the demand, the abuse cases are also increasing rapidly. Recent observations on rehabilitation centers suggest that more patients are seeking treatment every year. In 2019, on average 114 people took treatment in government rehabilitation centers every day, while the number was 104 in 2018 and 69 in 2017. Such observation suggests that the drug abuse case is also experiencing an upward trend in Bangladesh.
To tackle this deviance, the Bangladesh government took various policies to curb the demand and supply of drugs. Recently, mandatory dope test has been introduced in university admission and in government jobs. Moreover, to increase punitive action, the government has adopted Narcotics Control Bill-2018, through which punishment for drug trafficking has been increased to the death sentence and life imprisonment. Bangladesh follows a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy in drugs. The government also initiated ‘controversial’ war on drugs in 2018. Though Bangladesh’s war on drugs created controversy both in-home and abroad, one interesting fact is that, since then, the infamous ‘Teknaf route’ for Yaba has been difficult for traffickers. For the last three years, traffickers are avoiding that route. However, traffickers are also smart and are finding route through the Naikhyangchari exploiting the Rohingya camps and the vulnerabilities of the Rohingya.
However, various law enforcement agencies are working tirelessly in curbing the demand and supply of drugs in Bangladesh. Agencies including DNC, Police, Border Guards Bangladesh and RAB are working continuously. Since its inception, RAB has become the key force for Bangladesh in combatting the drug problem. It has also emerged as the most successful force against drugs also. Till now, RAB has seized more than 37 lakh bottles of Phensedyl and Sixty million pieces of Yaba, and many other drugs. The arrest made by RAB is also the highest among the forces. But on many occasions, RAB has taken questionable actions that resulted in unwanted and unpleasant events that created controversies in both home and abroad.
On the other hand, Bangladesh’s drug problem is a transnational problem. As discussed earlier, major drug consignments, including Yaba and crystal meth, are coming from Myanmar. DNC also identified 37 Yaba factories in Myanmar. UNODC report also suggests the same. In order to stop supply, sources must be stopped first. In this context, as a source country, Myanmar must put more effort into stopping drug smuggling in the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. Bangladesh also needs cooperation in the India-Bangladesh border in tackling the sources of other drugs, including Phensedyl. Without a regional effort, it will be tough to address the drug problem in Bangladesh. So, Bangladesh must put more diplomatic effort with Myanmar and India to establish a channel to curb the supply from the sources.
In conclusion, drug has become a major social problem in Bangladesh. Though Bangladesh is working hard to curb the problem, the efforts are still not enough. The skyrocketing statistics also suggest the same. Moreover, the coming of crystal meth may further deteriorate the scenario in the near future if not addressed quickly. Furthermore, due to transnational characteristics, besides increasing security, vigilance, awareness and punishment, Bangladesh also needs to increase diplomatic effort. Without a successful and comprehensive campaign against drugs, Drug will destroy Bangladesh’s youth, and the country will not benefit from the ‘demographic dividend’ that is currently taking place in the country.