Yaba, a potent combination of methamphetamine and caffeine, is causing widespread concern among Bangladeshi residents and law enforcement. With hundreds of thousands of people becoming addicted to this stimulant, the government’s response has become extremely harsh.
"I was awake for seven, eight, even 10 days at a time. I was taking yaba in the morning, the afternoon, in the evening, again late at night, and then working all night and not going to bed. I would black out. I totally went down. After two or three days I would wake, have food, and go to bed again. But if I had any yaba, I would take it - if you have a single pill left, you will take it." - Mohamed, resident of Bangladesh.
For people like Mohamed, addiction began at work. Coworkers share and sell the pills to help one another stay alert and energized throughout the day and night. Much like methamphetamine and even prescription stimulants, the drug began as a productive and positive addition to the day. In the early stages, most addicts only notice the positive effects like the energy boost, the euphoria, the confidence etc… But the longer the drug is taken, the more addictive it becomes to remain in that state.
Yaba first appeared in Bangladesh in 2002. Since then, it’s seen a small but sizable increase year over year. Manufactured illicitly in industrial quantities in Myanmar, it is smuggled into Bangladesh in the far south-east of the country. And while the drug has been around nearly two decades, the last few years have seen an explosion in the Bangladesh economy. Drug dealers have been quick to take advantage, ladening immigrants and refugees with packs of the drug to be taken into the major cities and towns.
What’s interesting about the drug is the role it may be filling for many Bangladesh residents who have never been exposed to substances before. Alcohol, while not technically illegal, is not widespread. Under Bangladeshi law, any beverage containing more than 0.5% alcohol is considered an alcoholic beverage. A government permit is necessary for selling, storing and the transport of alcohol.
To drink alcohol in Bangladesh requires a legal permit, with Muslims needing a medical prescription to obtain an alcohol permit. The prescription must be given by an associate professor of the medical college or a civil surgeon. Due in part to their restrictive alcohol laws, Bangladesh has one of the lowest alcohol consumption rates in Asia according to a World Bank report that came out in 2015.
As such, Yaba may fulfill a need for Bangladesh residents to escape from reality. According to Dhaka psychiatrist Ashique Selim, Yaba fulfills a role that alcohol hasn’t been able to. “I had a gentleman who came to me who'd led a pretty straight life. His parents were very conservative. So when his friends would go out and have a few beers, he wouldn't do that because he didn't want to come home smelling of drink. Then in his 30s, he came across yaba. So there were no visual changes in the way he looked, and there was no smell. And when he was having small doses there was no effect the day after."
While the drug may change little about a person initially, besides putting them in a good mood, users report drastic changes in personality from prolonged usage and abuse. As the drug has rapidly spread through the industrialized economy, lawmakers have taken notice. The Bangladeshi government has cranked up the penalties for yaba possession, even declaring a "zero tolerance" policy that some claim involves summary execution by law enforcement agencies.
While the government has denied these rumors, suspicious deaths have sparked an investigation by human rights committees. One human rights organization estimates that in 2018, in the first seven months of the government's anti-drug operations, nearly 300 people were killed across Bangladesh. The local press often puts the word "crossfire" in inverted commas, reflecting a widespread suspicion that sometimes these shoot-outs are staged.
In 2018, Bangladeshi authorities seized 53 million yaba tablets across the nation. The total value of this illicit business is estimated to be worth upwards of $1 billion per year. While there are no reliable surveys on the number of drug-dependent people in Bangladesh, the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC) estimates there are four million addicts.
In February of 2019, the government made a show of arresting 102 drug lords in a spectacular public display of surrender. Almost all of the arrests involved traffickers of some kind, marking a significant departure from the violence of prior arrests and deaths. Unfortunately, reports of new trade routes and smuggling operations have already made headlines.
A new strategy of yaba smuggling, involving fresh routes and hundi traders, has been at work since the surrender of the 102 dealers and drug lords. The pills from Myanmar are now making their way into Bangladesh through India. Earlier, local fishermen used to smuggle in the pills through the river. The new routes include border points in Putkhali, Dhannokhola of Sharsha upazila, Jadavpur of Chaugachha upazila in Jashore; Wahedpur of Shibganj upazila in Chapainawabganj; Zakiganj in Sylhet; Madhyanagar and Tekerghat in Sunamganj; and Balla in Habiganj.
What is Yaba?
Yaba, also referred to as the “madness drug”, is a combination of a number of stimulants. The two main substances that make up the drug are caffeine and methamphetamine, otherwise known as crystal meth. Yaba is a drug in tablet form, and it is most often red in color with the letters WY imprinted on it.
Those users who take it most commonly smoke the drug off tinfoil, though it can be ingested orally or crushed and snorted. It is also laced with a flavoring, most often vanilla, and gives off this aroma when smoked. Yaba is currently among the most popular drugs used and distributed in Southeast Asia, especially in Thailand and Bangladesh.
Stimulant drugs are used for a variety of medical and recreational purposes. Medically, stimulants are used to treat ADHD and are intended to raise alertness and attention, as well as increase blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. Recreationally, stimulants are taken to achieve high alertness, energy, and a pleasurable sense of well being.
When injected or smoked, stimulants can produce intense feelings of euphoria. Stimulants come in a variety of forms, including amphetamines, cocaine, methamphetamine's, pseudoephedrine, and more.
The most common individual forms of stimulants are:
Amphetamine (Adderall, Dexedrine)
On the streets, stimulants come by many different names. Some of the most common terms include blow, coke, candy, crack, jack, nose candy, crank, and crystal.
How do Stimulants Work?
Stimulants change the way the brain communicates with the body by changing the way nerve cells communicate. Depending on the type of stimulant consumed, the drug increases the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain at either a fast or slow pace. Dopamine induces feelings of pleasure and creates the euphoric high associated with stimulants, while norepinephrine, one of the fight or flight chemicals alongside epinephrine, affects the blood vessels and increases the heart rate, blood sugar, and breathing rate.
Caffeine easily enters the body and takes about 45 minutes to be absorbed through the membranes into your bloodstream. The half-life is about 4 to 6 hours after consumption. Once it hits your bloodstream, caffeine is metabolized and sent throughout the body. Caffeine blocks the adenosine molecules
Nicotine is one of the most heavily used drugs in circulation today. In spite of years of research demonstrating the negative health consequences associated with inhaling and chewing tobacco, over 1 billion still continue to use nicotine. Nicotine is one of 4000 chemicals found in cigarettes, and can be ingested through the nose, mouth, and lungs. Nicotine increases levels of dopamine rapidly, usually achieving peak levels within ten seconds of ingestion. Nicotine stimulates both epinephrine and dopamine production, albeit in shorter, less intense bursts.
The different forms and methods of injection can change the effects that this drug has on the body. In powdered form, the drug is snorted and takes roughly 30 minutes to achieve peak levels of absorption. In its crystal form, the cocaine can quickly deliver the euphoric high within minutes. Crack cocaine can be heated and the vapors inhaled, or dissolved in a water solution and injected intravenously. Enzymes in the body dissolve about half the cocaine dose in about an hour, which means users are usually ready for another dose 40 minutes after ingesting the substance. The safest form is chewing the coca leaves, which produces significantly less stimulating effects and carries lower risks for abuse and overdose.
Ephedrine and Substitutes
Ephedrine is ingested as either a pill or tea and reaches its peak effects in about an hour. Synthetic substitutes are typically used to aid athletic and academic performance.
Amphetamine and Methamphetamine
Much like cocaine, both amphetamine and methamphetamine enter the bloodstream, quicker when smoked or injected. However, they are more effective when digested because they are not broken down as quickly by the liver. Both drugs are degraded more slowly than cocaine, so effects are typically longer lasting than cocaine.
Are Stimulants Dangerous?
There are a number of dangers associated with stimulant consumption. For one, at high doses they can lead to dangerously high body temperatures, irregular heartbeat, and even fatal cardiac arrest, stroke, or seizure. Much like opiates, stimulants become more dangerous when consumed in greater volumes. Prolonged usage can result in increased blood pressure, and often times produces negative psychological symptoms. Abusers often enter into a state of hostility and paranoia not un-similar to paranoid schizophrenia. Particularly alarming are bath salts, which have been known to produce psychotic-like behaviors.
Prolonged stimulant usage is also likely to produce a profound addiction because of the euphoric high that they produce. Stimulants become even more dangerous when combined with any sort of substance that could raise heart rate and blood pressure.
Signs of a Stimulant Overdose
You should never take stimulants recreationally, but by recognizing the signs of a possible overdose you can reduce the risk factors associated with the drug. When people take too many stimulants, these are the signs they may exhibit.
If you’re worried someone is experiencing an overdose, the best thing to do is call 911 and monitor their condition until medical personnel arrives. You can treat their high temperature with ice packs, and make sure they stay hydrated with water.
Withdrawing from stimulant abuse does not carry any significant health risks, but there are plenty of negative side effects that make it a difficult process. Users who have been taking stimulants frequently for any amount of time will experience symptoms of fatigue, depression, and insomnia. Other symptoms include:
- Trouble Focusing
Luckily, for those dealing with problems worried about withdrawal, treatment can help. Many treatment centers can offer medically assisted detoxification programs that keep patient from experiencing life-threatening issues that are common in withdrawal.
When it comes to drugs and alcohol, addiction is too common of a problem that affects millions across the country. Luckily, there are treatment options for those who are suffering from these problems. Landmark Recovery is one drug and alcohol treatment facility that can help those who are dealing with addiction issues. Landmark offers a number of services to those who are struggling with substance use disorder. Landmark can offer medically supervised detox, inpatient treatment, and access to an intensive outpatient program that can help patients continue their treatment following their residential care program. If you are interested in learning more about how Landmark can help, please visit our website and reach out to our admissions team.