Drugs, race, gender – and ‘family honour’

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.”

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