Yaba has overtaken opiates and hashish as Bangladeshis’ drug of choice, with soaring numbers of the young middle-class experimenting with this highly addictive drug. We look at how the rise of yaba is preparing to take its toll on Bangladeshi society.
In recent years, a wave of yaba use has swept over Bangladesh, leaving an epidemic of yaba addiction in its wake. And while the use of yaba and other methamphetamines is often associated with poorer working classes, a markedly different trend is developing in Dhaka. In this case, young people from the middle and upper classes are experimenting with yaba and fuelling an alarming surge in addiction rates.
How Yaba Outpaced Heroin and Cannabis in Bangladesh
Heroin and cannabis were the drugs of choice in Bangladesh into the early 2000s, but there was a rapid shift in terms of local drug use preferences. An anecdotal report by Didarul Alam Rashed places this in perspective. He operates a drug treatment centre on the border with Myanmar, and conducted a couple of informal surveys that demonstrate the rise of yaba in the region.
As Rashed told CNN, a local survey conducted in 2002 found that approximately 20,000 people in the area were addicted to drugs – but he didn’t record any yaba addictions. In 2016, his team conducted the same survey. This time, they found four times as many addicts in the area. Even more disturbingly, four out of five were addicted to yaba.
As to what would cause such a surge in addiction, the answer is at least partially related to supply. A substantial portion of the illicit substances sold in Bangladesh are manufactured in neighbouring Myanmar. As lucrative as the heroin and cannabis trades are, they come with significant downsides. Both are made from plant-based precursors that must be cultivated and harvested. And then there’s the matter of transporting the final products.
Drug traffickers are much fonder of yaba. It’s synthetic, which means all production takes place in a laboratory. The pills are small, portable and easily concealed. As yaba became the drug of choice for dealers, it became the de facto drug to try in Bangladesh. And given the startling rates of addiction seen in yaba users, it didn’t take long for drug syndicates to establish and develop a large base of reliable users.
What Does the Average Yaba User Look Like in Bangladesh?
The rapid rise in popularity of yaba is startling enough, but it becomes even more concerning when you consider how many of these new users are young people. The Department of Narcotic Control issues an annual report that covers user statistics. The most recent report on file found that 80 per cent of drug users in Bangladesh were under 40. A separate report found that well over half of Bangladesh’s drug users are in their 20s.
These figures cover all drug users and are not limited strictly to yaba addicts. But yaba dominates the current substance-abuse climate in Bangladesh. And by all accounts, it appears to have dug its claws into a base of teens and young adults.
Part of this may be due to perceptions of the drug as a fixture of high-society. When it was first unleashed on local markets, yaba was well-received by local elites and celebrities. It was also perceived as a potential weight-loss tool, which boosted its popularity among models and actors. In that way, yaba was associated with affluence, success and beauty.
And the drug is priced accordingly. The Dhaka Tribune states that yaba pills cost anywhere from BDT 300 to 2,000 – priced well out of reach of minimum wage earners, who receive only BDT 5,300 per month.
The uptake of yaba by Bangladeshi society is largely fuelled by the more affluent classes. These are the people who can realistically afford to experiment with the drug as addiction develops. But once it does, all bets are off. A yaba addiction is expensive to maintain for users of all but the most elite and privileged classes. And it takes much more than a financial toll on users.
Young Bangladeshis Need Support to Overcome Yaba Addiction
As the yaba epidemic continues to flourish in Bangladesh, the long-term effects of yaba will become more pronounced. Severe physical effects – liver damage, kidney failure, skin lesions and cardiac arrest – are going to become associated with an entire generation of young people as they age.
And then there are the psychological effects. Even short-term yaba use is associated with severe insomnia, contributing to hallucinations, psychosis and suicidal thoughts. As we’re still in the early days of this epidemic, it’s safe to say that the worst is yet to come.
If someone that you care about is experimenting with yaba or has become addicted, help is available. The Cabin Dhaka offers private addiction treatment for yaba users. Our counsellors are highly qualified and culturally sensitive, and they understand that no one chooses to suffer from addiction.