In Pictures: Life of a Nepali drug addict - Al Jazeera English

In Pictures: Life of a Nepali drug addict

Ineffective governance and the availability of a cheap cocktail of pharmaceutical drugs contribute to a growing crisis.

Luc Forsyth | | Health, Asia, Nepal, Drugs

Kathmandu, Nepal - An ineffectual government, a broken economy with few jobs to offer, and low-quality education, have all contributed to the Nepal's escalating drug crisis.

The country's drug problem started in the 1960s and 1970s when Nepal became the destination of choice for a generation of freedom-seeking Westerners looking to escape the restrictions in their own countries. At that time, Nepal - where marijuana plants grow wild in the countryside and are as tall as a two-story building - fit their criteria: an abundance of cheap drugs, a low cost of living, and an uninterested legal system.

But as their cash reserves dwindled, some found alternate means to fund their carefree lifestyle by smuggling heroin from Southeast Asia’s golden triangle across Nepal’s porous border.

And while the Nepalese government eventually banned the legal sale of marijuana products and the foreigners mostly drifted away, the legacy of the hard drugs they introduced remained.

"When the hippies left, the drugs stayed," Rajendra Shrestha, the head psychologist at one of Nepal’s oldest drug rehabilitation facilities, Freedom Centre, told Al Jazeera.

Eight years ago, 28 year-old Sujin Shrestha started experimenting with hash and pills, before moving on to the more visceral high of heroin, which he smoked and later injected.

When the prices of heroin rose to unaffordable levels, Sujin, like many young Nepalis, switched to the "Nepali cocktail", a mixture of pharmaceutical drugs blended in a syringe and shot directly into the bloodstream, often via the groin. The Nepali cocktail produces a high that can last a novice user 24 hours.

By the time Sujin realized he was addicted, it was too late. He lost his job as a bronze sculptor, found himself stigmatized by his community, was left as the sole provider for his epileptic mother, and had a $70 per day habit - well beyond his means. In an attempt to distance himself from the drug scene of Kathmandu, Sujin applied for a student visa in the UK, but was rejected when unable to provide proof of financial support. He turned to dealing drugs, which allowed him to both feed his cravings and purchase medicine and food for his mother, but left him hopelessly entangled in his addiction.

Tens of thousands of Nepali youth face similar prospects. For-profit rehabilitation facilities have been largely ineffective in curbing the problem.

Without decisive government involvement and a revamping of the rehabilitation process, more and more young Nepalis are likely to fall into the same trap as Sujin - unable to break out of the toxic cycle.

Follow Luc Forsyth on Twitter: @LucForsyth

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