The impact of drug addiction in Punjab is much higher than the rest of India, new research suggests.
A mental health survey of twelve states surveyed 2,895 individuals from 719 households across four districts in Punjab. Of these households, 2.48 percent were home to at least one person who used illicit substances. By comparison, the other states displayed an illicit substance misuse prevalence of only 0.57 percent. %Among the drugs consumed were cannabis and opioids, including opium and heroin. The study found that abuse was most prevalent in individuals aged between thirty and 39.
The research offers a snapshot of what is a much wider problem in Punjab, particularly when it comes to illicit substances. A 2015 survey found that 230,000 individuals in the state used illicit drugs – a prevalence of 836 drug users for every 100,000 people. This was compared to the national average of 250 illicit drug users for every 100,000 people. Punjab consistently ranks among the states with the highest rates of drug-related crimes and quantities of drugs seized by authorities.
The death toll of drug addiction in the state is high too. Between January and June 2018 alone, drug-related deaths in the state were more than double the rate for the entirety of 2017. Families are ravaged with tragic regularity, many suffering bereavements. Drug use is disturbingly common among young people: a 2017 survey of adolescents aged eleven to fifteen found that one-third were addicted to drugs.
“The menace of drug addiction in Punjab is clearly incurring a significant human and social cost. Many families grappling with substance abuse are witnessing their lives ruined. It is fortunate that the state government is acting against the scourge. Stepping up efforts will be vital in combating a public health crisis of significant magnitude.”
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has made tackling Punjab’s drug crisis a focal point of his administration’s policy. Measures taken include the establishment of departments under the state health department to assist with addiction treatment; punitive efforts against drug smugglers, including fast-track courts and pre-emptive detention for repeat offenders; and even an appeal to the Centre for the death penalty to be imposed for drug trafficking offences.
The state government has enjoyed some progress, reports say, with the dismantling of supply chains and success in reaching addicts with treatment. Three lakh people were treated for drug addiction in the state in 2018 and, at the beginning of the year, 63,000 individuals were receiving de-addiction therapy.
Despite the progress made, the crisis continues, engendering in the process numerous allegations of corruption. Police officers have been implicated in drug trafficking, resulting in numerous arrests, and politicians have even been accused of bribing addicts with drugs in exchange for their votes. Meanwhile, the flow of drugs into the state continues, virtually unabated. The chief route of entry is that the drugs flow out Afghanistan and then cross into Punjab over the Indo-Pakistan border. As an Economic Times report notes
“Traditionally, drugs in Punjab come from the poppy fields of Afghanistan…according to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the total area under poppy cultivation in Afghanistan was estimated at 328,000 hectares in 2017, a 63 percent increase over the previous year. Potential opium production was estimated at 9,000 tons in 2017, an increase of 87 percent from 2016.
“A spike in production in Afghanistan obviously means supply to Punjab will not slacken even despite the crackdown on dealers and peddlers by the state government. There are reports of drugs reaching Punjab through alternative routes now, one so circuitous that it first reaches Africa and then comes to Delhi and Punjab.”
The menace of drug addiction in Punjab is clearly incurring a significant human and social cost. Many families grappling with substance abuse are witnessing their lives ruined. It is fortunate that the state government is acting against the scourge. Stepping up efforts will be vital in combating a public health crisis of significant magnitude.