Abir* first tried yaba out of curiosity with one of his neighbours. Eight years later, he is now fully addicted to the drug, having taken it regularly for the past seven years. When he first started, Abir only did the drug occasionally. It became a regular habit after he started to do it more frequently with two of his friends.
He started buying yaba using money he got from his relatives as gifts, or for getting good grades in school. Once that money ran out and his consumption increased, Abir started to lie to his family to get money to buy the drug. As his consumption increased further, he resorted to stealing from home until he was caught by his family. “I never lied or stole after that,” he said. But simply asked his family to give him the money ever since, which they did.
“My addiction caused a lot of problems at home. My relationships with others started to break down or got strained. It changed my way of living, my lifestyle, and I started to think differently as the drug took over my life. I stopped participating in normal activities that are supposed make you feel good,” Abir lamented, saying that he couldn't derive any pleasure from doing them anymore because of the effects of the drug. “Yaba changes the way you think to the point where you lose your mental balance.” Thus, it also severely affected Abir's education. “I felt angry, depressed and frustrated without any reason, it ruined so many things about my life.”
Despite wanting to quit, his attempts to give up yaba failed as dealers kept calling Abir or leaving him missed calls every time he tried, just to remind him that he could get the drug any time he wanted. “When dealers realised I had money, they started to leave about 100-200 pills with me every few days, and once, more than 600 even. I kept taking them and dealers would call me later to ask for the money and I even had to give a dealer my guitar once as payment. My addiction completely isolated me from everyone,” Abir said, expressing his desire still to overcome his addiction.
Sohel* too was once addicted to yaba. His family, once they learned about it, sent him to a rehabilitation centre which he hated, tried to escape from, and eventually left in anger. “The first thing they do there is shave your head. They pressurise you to work to a point that he didn't like,” his mother said. “We later sent him to another centre and he actually liked it there. The main difference was that people there were kind and encouraging. That gave him hope.”
Sohel eventually was able to overcome his addiction. And although he barely talks about his experience anymore, not wanting to recall those dark times, he later told his mother that the most important factor was his desire to quit. “Why did I even go to rehabilitation?” Sohel asked. “I could've quit on my own if I really wanted to, and I did. All I needed was the willingness to give it up. But when you are on it, you find one excuse after another for yourself, to convince yourself and others that you cannot quit because of this reason or that,” Sohel would say, according to her.
But trying to quit on your own may not always be possible. According to Tarun Gayen, chief executive of CREA Drug Addiction Treatment Centre in Dhaka, around 5-10 percent of patients receiving treatment at the centre were diagnosed with psychotic problems. Other rehabilitation centres also said the same, although the percentage did vary; but not by much.
And Sohel too had similarly suffered. “He started to put scotch tape on the fridge to try to cover up parts of it. He said it was shocking him from time to time, broke his phone saying that it was watching him, talking to him, saying bad things,” explained his mother. It was then that his family took him to a rehabilitation centre where, to the surprise of everyone, he seemed completely normal. “We had to explain how he had acted before to the doctors as he demonstrated no sign such odd behaviour in front of them. Fortunately, everything worked out eventually, and he has now fully recovered.”
One of the most important factors in his recovery was to avoid the types of environment that could once again push him down that dark and destructive path. And he has been trying his best to do that especially by avoiding people who take the drug, including some of his old friends.
This was also key to Nazmul* staying clean at first, once he had finally decided to quit the drug some years ago. “When I first decided not to do yaba, it seemed like an impossible task. My friend Sabrina* encouraged me not to hang out with others who were doing the drug, that was very important.”
Nazmul never did the drug as regularly as his other friends with whom he had started, but he did take yaba for nearly three years. “I did it occasionally for the first two years, how many times a month varied, but I am sure I did not do it more than 10 times in any one month.”
He even fully stopped for nearly a month and a half after those two years, when in just one day, everything changed. “I did it again with the intent of doing it just once when a friend said he had some really good yaba pills. I still don't know whether they were tainted or not, but it was nothing like I had ever taken before -- completely different.”
Nazmul said he still can't recall parts of that experience -- but it lasted for nearly two days and he started to do it more regularly after that. Though a scary experience, he didn't really take it as seriously as he later would, when he saw the effects of yaba gripping his friends to the point where “their behaviour was nearly unrecognisable.”
“They started to act very strangely with me, kept telling me how I am addicted when they did it much more than me. I thought it was because they cared, but then they became suspicious, I don't even know about what, they started to treat me differently, as if they didn't even know me. This really hurt me and made me want to do the drug more, which I did, alone. Later I realised it was the drug that was making them act that way. It affects your mental stability by making you anxious; it isn't called the 'mad drug' for no reason.”
At this point, Nazmul's family started to become very suspicious when his friend, Sabrina, came to his rescue. “She knew everything but gave me my space until then. When she realised things were worsening she intervened, when I had no one else to confide in.” Nazmul only spent time with Sabrina for the next month out of all his friends, especially to avoid relapse.
“It wasn't because all my friends were addicted to yaba, although many were, but she was the only one who knew how to deal with me, take care of me, during that difficult beginning. And it wasn't only like I was trying to stay away from the drug itself, but I had to give up many things about my life altogether which made it much more difficult.”
The kindness and support he received from her at first, and his family later on, was what “saved” him, Nazmul explained. “That is what you need if you want to quit yaba as it can easily overwhelm you emotionally, and even how your brain functions,” Sabrina said, having watched Nazmul's struggle up close the entire time, “which is why I had to be patient with him, and ask his family to do the same.” After that difficult beginning, Nazmul said that it got “easier for him to stay away from the drug.” He has been clean for years now and said that “he never wants to touch yaba again.”
According to one drug rehabilitation centre in Cox's Bazaar, the number of patients addicted to yaba admitted there went up from being non-existent almost a decade ago, to now about 80 percent. Five other drug rehabilitation centres in Dhaka that The Daily Star spoke to mentioned figures which were nearly identical, showing the scale of the problem and how widespread it is in our society.
Most experts The Daily Star spoke to said that patients addicted to yaba needed to be treated differently because of how the drug affected them. “You need more emphasis on counselling,” said Gayen, “whereas heroin affects patients physically more, yaba takes a greater toll on their minds and, therefore, requires a different kind of approach.”
Unfortunately, experts also explained that because of the social stigma associated with addiction, many patients don't admit to their addiction until they completely break down mentally and emotionally. It is difficult to treat patients who have reached such a point, although, it not at all impossible, they said.
Another major problem regarding yaba addiction is that there isn't enough social awareness about it. Although people realise that its use has become widespread across society, and that its affects are dangerous, experts agree that these issues are yet to be taken as seriously as they ought to be. They explained that they have never seen an addiction problem as serious as what they have seen with regards to yaba, and that society as a whole, must realise that also.
Additionally, according to SM Rajibul Islam, Chairman of Omega Point Rehabilitation Centre, because the “suicide rate among yaba addicts is so high,” their friends and family need to be more understanding and supportive, which many still don't realise. People around them “often give up hope on them,” which doesn't help. “It is a disease, and so it has a cure. People need to know this so that they can give patients the courage needed to overcome it.”
All experts agree that there has to be concerted effort to tackle yaba addiction among people, especially the young. And that the most important steps can only be talked about and taken, once more awareness is generated across all segments of society concerning a problem that is destroying the lives of countless numbers of young people in our country, as well as their future prospects.
*The names mentioned are pseudonyms and not the real names of the individuals.