Listen to this article:
Chandigarh: One in seven (15%) in Punjab are currently dependent on addictive substances, both licit and illicit. In absolute numbers, it translates into 40 lakh people, a new report by Chandigarh-based Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) has revealed.
The report, released by the Punjab governor on Monday, February 21, states the number of individuals dependent on alcohol, tobacco and opioids are 22 lakh, 16 lakh and two lakh respectively.
The major concern, as observed by the report, is that among those consuming opioids or chitta (as it’s called in colloquial Punjabi), the number of injecting drug users (IDUs) has gone up considerably.
“20% of IDUs are catching HIV. It is because drug addicts often take injections in groups. The problem occurs when multiple users use the same injection, transferring the virus from one person to another,” explains Professor J.S. Thakur, who has authored the report and is the head of the Department of Community Medicine and School of Public Health at PGIMER.
“The prevalence of Hepatitis B is also high among injecting drug users for similar reasons,” he adds.
Professor Thakur also notes that IDUs face a greater risk of early death, although the report does not reveal the number of drug-related deaths in Punjab every year.
The report states that it is the youth who are more drawn to heroin and are into injectable drug use, often struggling due to poor academic performance – absenteeism, impaired learning abilities and general lack of interest in studies.
It also adds that mental illnesses – such as depression, apathy, withdrawal, personality disorders, short-term memory loss, mood alterations, among others – are also prominently seen in them.
Consequently, they end up committing petty crimes and more often than not get arrested, or dealt with by the juvenile justice system in the case of minors.
On the other hand, aged persons, who are more drawn to liquor, opium and cocaine, suffer mood disorders, heart and lung ailments, liver problems, memory loss, suicidal tendencies and depression. Sometimes, they also exhibit poor judgment and coordination ability leading to vehicular accidents, the report underlines.
To touch upon the social dimension of substance abuse, the report carries a number of case studies, based on the interviews with those facing addiction.
In one such case, a 32-year-old male addict from Punjab’s Ropar has been going through a turbulent life. The respondent studied up to Class X. His father is a truck driver, and his mother a housewife. The respondent had worked in the PASCO automobile company, but left his job due to drug addiction six years ago.
Now, he does not have any specific source of income, but depends on his father to meet his daily expenses. He is married and has a three-year-old son. The respondent doesn’t have a “good relationship” with his father, mother and wife, states the report.
According to his parents, the economic condition of his family was good earlier, but over time, it has worsened.
“The respondent appears older than his actual age.” His parents said that their son used to be kind, helpful and sociable before taking up drugs. But now his behaviour has totally changed and he has become careless. He has lost interest in his usual activities and lost weight, and his behaviour is more aggressive now.
As per the report, even during the interview, his behaviour was fluctuating. For instance, in the initial stage of the interview, he responded “positively”, but later he seemed to be quite upset and even refused to answer at times.
According to the respondent, initially, he took drugs for enjoyment but became addicted over time. He said that he feels active, fresh and relaxed after taking drugs. He says he can’t work without taking drugs and consumes at least once daily. “He even takes loans from friends and steals household things to have money for drugs.”
His family belongs to a village in Ropar district. But after the death of his younger brother who was also a drug addict, his parents sold the house in the village and shifted to Ropar city.
The main objective behind the move was to keep him away from the “bad company” of his friends, but it could not bring any change.
In another case, a 20-year-old man is currently studying in Class XII.
He started drinking alcohol (one bottle daily) on a regular basis in class IX and then started consuming cannabis. His main reason for starting cannabis was self-experimentation and not peer pressure, according to the report.
He consumed cannabis regularly and had to drop out of school as he got embroiled in legal issues due to acts which he committed under the influence of alcohol. After getting bail, he did not go back to drugs for a period of six to seven months, but then started again.
His addiction has created a number of issues for his family. Although he tried quitting twice, he relapsed.
The report focuses on the prevention of substance abuse, without dwelling into de-addiction of current substance abusers.
It proposes the constitution of a central advisory committee with the chief minister to lay out and execute the statewide “substance abuse prevention plan”. The committee should draw members from all key departments, including sports, health, education and police, for a “multisectoral approach”.
The report also recommends the state designate any medical college in Punjab or PGIMER as a State Training and Resource Centre (STRC) to help make district-level drug prevention action plans.
The major focus of the district-level plan will be to build the capacity of school teachers, college teachers and peer educators (both school and non-school going), health inspectors, block extension educators for prevention activities and dissemination of information about prevention of drug abuse at the village level and city level. Network of youth clubs/Nehru Yuva Kendras to be involved in providing area-specific interventions and support.
The report also wants to rope in religious groups – such as Radha Soami, Namdhari sect, Beni Sahib, Nirankari, Ruhani Satsang and deras – to advocate a “Tandrust Atey Nasha Mukat Punjab” campaign.
It also wants to bring state universities into the board, which could act as Regional Resource Centres for specific regions for drug abuse. RRCs can provide technical support, and review and help in finalising district-level plans in their area of jurisdiction.