Mangaluru, a major educational hub in south India, has of late been in the news for the wrong reasons, with the arrest of a few medical practitioners and medical students on charges of drug consumption.
The city was rocked by charges of cannabis use and peddling by the medical students and a few doctors. A total of 22 people, including doctors, were arrested by the police recently in different cases and the wide media attention it received considerably dented the image of the city as a premier hub of educational institutions.
Mangaluru has five universities, seven medical colleges and over a dozen engineering colleges, besides a number of arts and science colleges where students from different parts of the country, especially from neighbouring Kerala, are pursuing their studies.
It was a rude shock when nine medical students, including a doctor and a surgeon, were arrested on charges of consuming and peddling ganja on January 10.
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Another nine medicos, including two doctors, were arrested for peddling and consumption of cannabis ten days later. Four medical students were held in two drug cases in between these two incidents.
Anxious parents from across the country were in disbelief hearing the news of doctors and medical students becoming drug peddlers.
Though peddling may not be the exact word to describe their act, it became clear through initial investigations that exchange of drugs has been taking place among them, a police official said.
The student population in the city and suburbs is estimated to be around 50,000 with most of them coming from different parts of the country.
Dr G Shreekumar Menon, former director general of National Academy of Customs, Indirect Taxes and Narcotics & Multi-Disciplinary School of Economic Intelligence, said though not many studies are available to assess the extent of the drug problem, going by the seizures effected by the police, a drug chain is visible among the students to a large extent.
While the students are obviously reluctant to divulge any details, managements of educational institutions are more tight-lipped about the issue fearing loss of image. Reduced admissions would mean a huge setback for the institutions in a highly competitive space.
For medical students who consume drugs with the full knowledge of its hazards, the reasons are many for them to fall in the trap. Being a highly prestigious career that calls for academic excellence and success, the stress being experienced by them is high.
The stress and aspiration for success are the reasons for the high rates of burnout among medical students and physicians, Dr Menon said.
The easy availability of alcohol, marijuana, psychedelic drugs, tranquilizers and opioids, is an irresistible temptation for many to experiment with drugs.
Experts say that imparting education about the effects of substance abuse is a must among the student community. This education, combined with classes on self-care and coping with stress can be helpful for students and alleviate any drug abuse on campus.
It is quite possible that substance abuse among medical students may be more widespread than revealed in the recent past. This has implications for the safety of the students and the patients and ultimately for the integrity of the medical colleges themselves.
Experts say that the present police action only on some medical students and doctors could have been done maintaining confidentiality and privacy. Sensational publicity can have major repercussions for the city’s status as an educational hub. Every agency has to act with restraint, maturity and foresight, they say.
Mangaluru Bar Association vice president Manoraj Rajeeva questioned the manner in which the police probed the drug case involving the medicos.
While the stringent police action against drug trafficking is commendable, the case involving those who consume drugs is not being probed in a fair manner, he said.
As per Section 64A of the 1985 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, those who have consumed drugs have exemption from legal action and there was no need to send them to judicial custody if they are willing to go to rehabilitation centres, he said.
Rajeeva wondered why the police department has not taken steps in this direction. He also resented the police action of providing the photographs of the accused to the media. He said such acts not only affect the families of the accused, but also ‘Brand Mangaluru’ with the image of the medical education institutions getting hit.
The Mangaluru Bar Association vice president wanted a High Court-monitored probe or an investigation by central agencies into the cases.
He also demanded that the Karnataka government order a confidential online survey of all students undergoing medical and allied health programmes.
Professor and forensic expert Dr Mahabalesh Shetty also said screen tests showing positive results does not confirm drug consumption. Samples have to be confirmed by sending them to FSL and CFL tests within 24 hours as sometimes even passive smoking gives positive results, he said.
Meanwhile, services of two doctors who were arrested on January 10 on charges of drug peddling and consumption has been terminated by the hospital that they were affiliated with.
This was conveyed to Mangaluru Police Commissioner N Shashi Kumar by the dean of the medical college and hospital. The commissioner said the dean informed him that the college has zero tolerance towards drugs and would extend all cooperation to the authorities concerned in the war against drug abuse.
Police have arrested 29 people in recent weeks in its drive against drug abuse in the city, which include 22 persons from the medical fraternity, Kumar said.
The Police Commissioner said they are probing into the source of the drugs (cannabis, marijuana, ganja) and how they were being distributed. The police are probing contacts of the main accused in the case, he said.