Drugs, race, gender – and ‘family honour’

// 6 January 2009

The BBC reports that ‘A growing number of Asian women are using Class A drugs’ based on information reported from Nafas, a drugs resource project that primarily targets the Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets, London.

According to the news report, ‘drug misuse'(1) amongst British Asian women, by which they mean British South Asian women I think, was ‘unheard of’ just a decade ago. Today, Nafas treats 20-25 women a year for heroin addiction, which the organization ‘believes is just the tip of the iceberg.’

Within the BBC story, we go from this – increasing treatment of Bangladeshi women in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets for heroin addiction by a specialist service project – to the idea that British Asian women are facing a major substance misuse problem across the country.

Scanning Nafas’ website, I cannot find any reference to a press release, report or info to find out more. Indeed, the problem seems to be relatively untracked:

There are no official figures but drug experts agree it is a growing problem, not just in London but in places with large Asian communities like Birmingham, Bradford and Lancashire.

Which is perhaps why Sunny over at Pickled Politics is sceptical. Yet the BBC report neatly explains why we can’t use our personal social circles as a litmus for the extent of the problem:

because of a sense of family honour or concern for public image, the problem remains hidden.

And later:

Mr Ahmed [a manager at Nafas] believes the situation is similar to that of Asian men 10 years ago, where the community was aware of the problem but reluctant to speak out or seek treatment for friends or family.

Which of course is perfect: ‘family honour’ is ever so pesky, undermining our attempts to learn more about any difficulties facing South Asian women… we can’t confirm, we can’t deny, and, most importantly, we can’t deal with issues because we simply don’t have the information and can’t seem to get it. The ‘Asian community’s insularity’ strikes again.

Yet, clearly, Nafas has some expertise in this department. As do the mysterious ‘drug experts’ the BBC refers to. And stigma around substance misuse is hardly a South Asian phenomenon.

Great to see the story breaking; looking forward to more about why the problem exists/is developing, and what to do. For instance, what’s up with these boyfriends?

“Often they start using because of their boyfriends. Some of them get tricked into using drugs and many of them are driven into prostitution to feed their habit.”

Comments From You

Birmingham lass // Posted 6 January 2009 at 11:44 am

Zohra -good article.

I reckon it’s no so much as the insularity factor of us Asians -but inasmuch as the lack of data will hinder an acknowledgement of a ‘real’ problem (facts, please) and so the denial aspect will continue. One extreme will say this problem doesn’t exist , problem much worse in the white community by comparison, effects of living in the white man’s society and mixing, or one person doing drugs doesn’t mean we are all doing drugs etc.

Hard facts on the ground is that drug misuse by young Asian men are rising through the roof – in one northern town,the mosque imam told people at a community event 4 years ago to stop burying their heads in the sand and look at how many Muslim men locked up for drug dealing and drug related crime scams (credit card fraud etc) and marriage breakdowns, increase in domestic violence… but until someone takes leadership from a community perspective then national initiatives will only be dealing with the crisis aspect

rather than the preventative aspect.

And of course, anything that applies to men, applies to women 10 years down the line…hence the drug taking.

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