India: Amphetamine-type stimulants now an emerging trend in the country

"(I use) ecstasy and amphetamine speed pills mostly. I love the pink pill engraved 'Y" the most. We have a combination of alcohol and the pills when we are at the floors. I really enjoy it. I never get tired after starting on using speed." - ATS user, Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

More and more young people are being drawn towards 'cooler' and 'more fashionable' drugs. Popularly known as ice, meth, speed, ecstasy and W, these drugs are psycho-stimulants that are also categorized as Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS). Available as pills and in powder form, they are usually swallowed, snorted or smoked and sometimes even injected.

This category of drugs can be easily manufactured in clandestine laboratories from readily available, inexpensive chemicals. In South Asia, there is mounting evidence that the region is increasingly being used for illicit ATS manufacture and use. In India, ATS seizures are predominant in the north-eastern part of the country, which borders Myanmar. 

Consumption of ATS can have serious effects on a person's health - both physically and mentally. However, users often believe rather erroneously, that ATS is safe and benign. There is also little awareness amongst health care workers, law enforcement authorities and the general public on the risks of using ATS.  There is no data on the use of ATS in India, and thus the basis for policy decisions is weak.  Also, data on treatment of ATS use is scarce.

To understand the pattern of use of ATS in India, UNODC conducted an exploratory study in the five states of Manipur, Mizoram, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, in India. The study also assessed the adverse health consequences related to the use of ATS.

The findings of the study revealed that methamphetamine pills and powder were the most commonly used forms of ATS. Most users were in their early twenties. They said that a general feeling of euphoria and happiness accompanies the use of the drug, making it very attractive and deeply desirable to consume. Many users said that using the drug made them feel 'confident' and unlike heroin, it gave them a lot of energy.

Nearly half of the participants of the study were found to be dependent users and a quarter of them reported to have experienced mental problems after ATS use including paranoia, hallucinations, depression and panic attacks. The study also established a link between ATS use and crime, with 18 percent of the participants confirming that they had been apprehended by the police after ATS use.

The initial findings of the study were presented for the first time by UNODC in Chandigarh, Punjab, India - one of the sites for the study. The event was held in collaboration with the Government of Punjab and was attended by senior officials from the Government, Representatives from the health and development sector and civil society partners.  Participants agreed that ATS use was an emerging trend and that awareness activities were required targeting the youth in schools and colleges. The drug using community felt that they should be more involved in the policy making process and treatment options should be made more accessible.

While some pharmacological drugs have been tested in clinical trials as treatment for ATS dependence, it is believed that a comprehensive psychosocial-cum-behavioral intervention based approach to treatment is the need of the hour. Currently, treatment professionals and de-addiction service providers in South Asia have no knowledge of or experience in having managed ATS use disorders. Therefore following this study, UNODC plans to set up two regional centers, one in Chennai, South India in collaboration with Psymed Hospital and one in Mizoram, North East India in collaboration with the Presbyterian Hospital, Durtlang. These centres will look into developing comprehensive treatment models and standard operating procedures and guidelines for health-care providers.

The study was conducted under the UNODC led project " Prevention of transmission of HIV among drug users in the SAARC countries" funded by the Government of Australia.

Click here to view photographs from the launch event. 

Click here to view media coverage on ATS use in India.

The study is currently being finalized, click here to view the findings presented at the launch.