Experts related to the field, mental health specialists and former law enforcement officials expressed concern over the criminal justice system regarding narcotics cases
The arrests and number of cases following drives against drug abuse and peddling portrays how Bangladesh is tackling the narcotics problem.
Bangladesh has introduced harsh laws, the death penalty, no bail for a certain period to tackle the problem. In fact one commonly hears of drug dealers getting killed in 'gunfights' with law enforcers.
Experts related to the field, mental health specialists and former law enforcement officials expressed concern over the criminal justice system regarding narcotics cases.
They also say that drug issues are being treated in Bangladesh as criminal activities, but all over the world, especially in modern countries, drug issues are part of a health problem.
The drug (yaba included) problem is not regarded as a solely criminal affair, but a bigger health issue across the world. While most countries focus on fighting drug cartels, more successful countries have focused on the users – the addicts – to put them back on track through proper healthcare and rehabilitation.
A number countries have taken stern action against drug peddlers and drug abusers. They have imprisoned or killed thousands of people, but have not done much to help or rehabilitate them.
The Philippines is an ideal example. Despite earning a bad name for its violent approach, it has so far been successful in its campaign that started in 2016.
Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and China also used to handle the drug problem with an iron hand, executing drug peddlers and users alike. All of them had harsh laws to deal with drug-related crimes.
But statistics show that such stern action against the drug problem is not an appropriate solution.
These countries had to backtrack from the harsh approach, and are now trying to deal with it as a medical problem. They are trying to treat, re-educate and rehabilitate addicts and peddlers.
Countries like the USA, Portugal and Uruguay have decriminalised drug use because of the realisation that for a drug user it is a health issue and not a matter of morality.
It is simply like having a disease. One should treat the disease, not blame the person.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced a "war on drugs" in early May 2018 after a reported rise in methamphetamine sales and use. On May 30 the same year, the premier also said that thousands had been arrested in the war on drugs.
During an official announcement on April 30, 2018, Rapid Action Battalion's Director General Benzir Ahmed also echoed the same thing, and said that they will tackle the drug problem with a strong hand.
Since the 'war' against drugs started, hundreds of alleged illicit drug peddlers have been shot in 'gunfights,' and more than twenty thousand have been apprehended.
The Registrar General's office of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh also said that around 180,000 drug related cases are pending in courts across the country.
Professor Dr M Emdadul Haq of North South University's Department of History & Philosophy said, "The process we follow to deal with drug peddlers is inappropriate to eradicate it from the root."
He has authored two books, namely "Drugs in South Asia: from the Opium Trade to the Present Day" and "Colonial Drug Trade in South Asia: from Palashi to Partition".
"From my long experience in narcotics related research, harsh punishment or arrest cannot solve the problem in a day. We have to cut down the supply," he added.
He also said, "If we do not need to consume Yaba, what is the reason for selling the pills?"
"The prison department should also arrange awareness programmes for inmates who are imprisoned in drug-related cases," he added.
This correspondent tried to contact some of the prisoners - once imprisoned and now released.
Mokbul Ahmed (not his real name), 35, was arrested from the capital's Kolabagan area in October 2017 and had to stay behind bars for at least three months.
He claimed that his life was ruined after being arrested in a narcotics case.
"I was just a Yaba pill addict, and I think my addiction was not a crime. But the entire judicial system turned me into a criminal, I was imprisoned with serious criminals. The entire process does not help an addict return to normal life," he added.
However, Md Jamal Uddin Ahmed, director general of the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC) claims that they have arranged different awareness programme in prisons all over the country.
"The DNC is trying to reduce illegal drugs through massive awareness programme such as anti-drug discussion, meetings, seminars and workshops across the country including in the prison," he added.
Meanwhile, a couple of prisoners told the Business Standard that they did not take part in any such programmes in prison.
"I must say that a prison is a place to become more addicted instead of a place for regret," said a released prisoner.
The director general of DNC also admitted that: "We have to promote awareness rather than depend on massive arrests and harsh punishment. Then the supply chain will be cut off."
One-third of the districts of the country don't have any drug rehabilitation facilities, be they government or private. There are no rehabilitation facilities in 23 districts including Meherpur, Panchagar, and Kurigram.
Moreover, the government has inadequate facilities at the drug rehabilitation centres. The country has four rehabilitation centres in four divisional headquarters. The largest one, the Central Treatment Center in Dhaka, has only 124 beds. Of them, 90 are for men, 24 for women and 10 for children. Chattogram, Rajshahi and Khulna have a 25-bed rehabilitation centre each.
Wishing not to be named, a fresh graduate of a private medical college told the Business Standard that he has been addicted to drugs since 2014.
"I had also gone to a rehabilitation centre; the living quality there is horrible. And I was afraid of being arrested by the police all the time. That is how society made me a criminal instead of a patient," the medical student added.
Dr Helaluddin Ahmed, a mental health specialist who deals with thousands of drug addicts, said the entire system is against the person who wants to overcome the addiction.
"In most cases, people who have been arrested by law enforcers do not come back to normal life. They just say, once we are put in the criminal list, nobody will show us sympathy," the doctor said.
Former Inspector General of Police and current Member of Parliament Nur Mohammad said that there is a lack of awareness and of rehabilitation programmes.
"We do not think an addict is a human being who needs treatment. We think he needs punishment. Such an approach will not help us eradicate the drug problem from the roots," the former IGP added.