'Drug Menace Cannot Be Addressed Without Breaking Unholy Nexus Between Big Players'

A recent study reviews the many dynamics driving drug addiction in north India. One of the study's authors talks about the findings.

Drug misuse, addiction and trafficking are becoming major global threats.

Recently, a study commissioned by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) found that political leaders are patronising drug smuggling, and some leaders are also involved in the trade. The main focus of the study is on Punjab but the adjoining districts of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jammu are also included in the study. The study  – ‘Dynamics of Drug Addiction and Abuse in India’ – is under publication with Routledge, the UK. The basic objective of this study was to analyse the socio-cultural and politico-economic dynamics of drug addiction.

Dr Ranjit Singh Ghuman, Professor of Eminence, Punjab School of Economics, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar and Professor of Economics, CRRID, Chandigarh with Dr Gurinder Kaur and Dr Jatinder Singh, both assistant professors with the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), Chandigarh, carried out a study based on 3,386 people.

Ghuman, who was heading the team, spoke to The Wire about the findings of the study and the various elements involved.

Edited excerpts from the interview are below.

What prompted you to conduct this study and what is the scope of your study?

Punjab has been prominently in the news for prevalence of drug use and abuse, especially for the last about 10 years. The National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) also highlights such a scenario. The growing volume of drug smuggling in Punjab has also made it notorious for being one of the states with the highest number of drug addicts, compared to its population with other states of India. The misinterpretation of the findings of some earlier studies also made Punjab a notorious state on drug use and abuse.  The open politics on drug menace in Punjab dates back to 2013, with the arrest of a dismissed Punjab Police DSP, Jagdish Singh Bhola, in the multimillion drug racket.

The Bollywood movie Udta Punjab (released in 2016) gave a further push to politicisation of this issue, not only in Punjab but also at the national level. In the 2017 elections for the Punjab legislative assembly, the drug phenomenon got a prominent place in the manifestoes of all the contesting political parties. The then Congress president, Amarinder Singh, in the run-up to 2017 elections took a vow with Gutka Sahib (a small holy book in his Sikh religion) in his hands to end the drug menace in one month after coming to power.

Nonetheless, there was hardly any comprehensive study highlighting the ground realities. This prompted us to undertake our study.

What were the objectives and scope of your study?

The main objective of our study was to understand the socio-cultural and politico-economic dynamics of drug addiction and abuse and not to estimate its extent. The study covers five states, namely Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and J&K, of north-west India. The empirical evidence has been generated from both secondary and primary data. The primary data was collected through extensive field work collected from 3,386 respondents including drug addicts, their household members, hidden addicts, other households, focus group discussions (FGDs) and case studies across the states. Unlike many previous studies, our study includes only those illicit drugs which are in the purview of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985 and does not include liquor and tobacco.

What are the main findings of the study?

The prevalence and spread of the drug menace is a global phenomenon and is embedded into the socio-cultural and politico-economic systems, hence, a systemic problem. There are three major global centres of heroin and cocaine production and processing in the world. These are: the Golden Triangle (Myanmar, Thailand and Laos); the Golden Crescent (Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan); and South America. India in general, and Punjab in particular, are on the transit-route of the golden crescent. The increased communication and connectivity has become very handy to the drug producers and for supply of drugs across international borders. It also led to financing and promoting narco-terrorism which is posing a serious threat to global peace and development.

Who are the addicts? What is their socio-economic profile?

Majority of the addicts are from rural households. Among the rural households, majority were agricultural households. Though the spread of drugs is among all the social castes, yet the drug-incidence is higher in the general category in comparison to their proportion in total population of the particular state. Age of drug addicts is a serious and worrisome concern, since 76% of the addicts are in the age group of 14-35 years; between 14-45 years of age this proportion is 93%. About 5% of the addicts got initiated into intoxicants at a very young age, between 7 and 14 years. Significantly, a sizeable majority of the addicts are very poorly educated and maximum up to senior secondary (12th standard) level.

What are the main reasons behind drug use and abuse?

There are multiple socio-economic reasons for youth falling prey to the intoxicants and drugs. The consumption of intoxicants by the elders in the household exerts a significant influence in inciting youth towards intoxicants and other drugs. Empirical data shows that approximately 83% of addicts got hooked to intoxicants and drugs under peer pressure. Disharmonious relations among the parents, failure in love affair, feeling of neglect and nagging during childhood, parents’ son preference, loneliness, social stigma and curiosity were some other important reasons for adolescents’ initiation into intoxicants. Increasing trend of nuclear family, shrinking community interaction and growing sense of individualism and alienation are some of the other factors.

Besides the above mentioned social factors, there are certain important economic factors such as unemployment and easy money (quick and ill-gotten money). Unemployment may not be the explicit reason for drug-addiction but under-employment, sub-human working conditions, low-paid employment (working-poor), economic distress, blurred future and frustration are other important reasons for drug addiction. Under such an ‘enabling’ socio-economic environment, substance-use becomes attractive to the teenagers and young adults. On the supply side, political-police patronisation to the big drug smugglers facilitates the expansion of drug-business.

What are the major drugs being consumed in north-west India; what are the methods of taking drugs?

Alcohol and tobacco were the main intoxicants consumed by the addicts for the first time and then they transitioned to hard and illicit drugs. The 10 major drugs being commonly consumed in the states under study, are: Heroin (chitta/ brown-sugar), Opium, Tramadol, Poppy Husk (bhukki), Cannabis (bhang/ sukha), Marijuana (ganja/smack), Buprenorphine, Codeine, Hashish (charas), and Cocaine. Heroin is more popular in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) than the other three states. The use of opium and buprenorphine is higher in Punjab and Haryana. Poppy husk is a preferred drug in Haryana, Rajasthan and in Malwa region of Punjab. Tramadol is more popular in Punjab and the use of cannabis is higher in Himachal Pradesh and J&K.  As compared to other states the use of Marijuana is higher in Haryana, Punjab and J&K. The use of codeine is higher in J&K.  Cocaine is also used, though by small number of addicts, in almost all the states.

Mainly oral consumption, injecting and inhaling are the popular methods among the addicts.

What are the sources of supply of drugs?

There are both internal and external sources of drug supply. There is cross-border smuggling of drugs and production of chemical and synthetic drugs within the country. North-west India, especially Punjab, is the transit route of drugs from the golden crescent countries. Drug-peddlers are the most important link in the supply chain between the drug-suppliers and the end consumers. The motivating force behind this chain is the huge and quick money.

This, along with allurement for drug consumption, is a strong motivator for the drug-peddlers. Besides peddlers, friends and chemists are the other sources of drugs. However, drug addicts are not confined to one source; instead they use multiple sources of supply.

Your study has also focused on the socio-economic costs of drug addiction. Could you please elaborate on this?

Drug addiction is a serious psycho-social disease which adversely affects an addict’s physical as well as mental health, leading to adverse impact on family and society. About 50% addicts admitted that they are suffering from multiple health issues such as HIV, Hepatitis A and C, depression, anxiety, panic, disorders, aggression, hallucination and paranoia. Nearly 73% of the households revealed that they are suffering from the deterioration in their social image due to the drug addiction habit of their family members. More than 83% of the respondents revealed that there is a serious trust-deficit of the addict. Approximately 78% addicts admitted loss of personal social image. Besides, the addicts get entangled into a number of anti-social activities such as theft and peddling which often results into arrest by the police and even conviction.

Though estimation of economic cost of drug addiction and abuse is a complex phenomenon, yet it is putting a huge financial burden on the addict and his/her family, health-services, law and order, governance and prisons. More than 97 per cent of the addicts experienced financial loss due to their habit of drug addiction and abuse. About 82% addicts were incurring expenditure between Rs 200-2000 on their daily dose of drug and the remaining were spending above Rs. 2000 daily. More than 60 per cent of the addicts on an average have spent up to Rs. 20000 on treatment while 35 percent spent between Rs. 20000-100000.  The higher expenditure incurred on treatment is mainly in the private de-addiction and so called rehabilitation centres.

The premature deaths caused by such ailments have both social and economic ramifications.  Age group of the pre-mature deaths is another major economic cost for the family, society and the economy. The addicts in our sample revealed that they know 1,059 addicts who died prematurely due to drug addiction and abuse. The economic cost of married drug addicts (more so that of the married and premature death) is both for the wife and parents but the calculation of socio-economic cost for the wife and children is beyond comprehension and computation as children’s career prospects are worst affected by the pre-mature death of their father.

Have there been any serious efforts by NGOs, religious organisations, national and international organisations or any Indian state to control the drug menace?

The UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 is an important land mark of ensuing drug trafficking across borders. The UNO General Assembly passed a resolution (resolution 42/112 of 7 December 1987) to observe June 26 as the International Day. A number of international agencies such as United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDP) and International Narcotic Control Board (INCB) are making conscious efforts to curb the menace by highlighting the issue and spreading awareness about the ill-effects of drugs.

In India, the issue acquired prominence after the enactment of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance (NDPS) Act, 1985. Many Indian states are trying to address the issue both by curative and preventive measures and by spreading awareness against the ill-effects of drug use and abuse. However, there is hardly any comprehensive policy to address the drug menace in India.

The government, elected bodies, police, political parties, NGOs and religious organisations often claim that they are making many efforts to curb the drug menace and spread awareness about the ill-effects of drugs. However, most of our respondents are of the opinion that these stakeholders and agencies are far behind people’s expectations and there is a huge gap between the claims and the achievement on ground.

As regards the government’s role in controlling the drug menace, nearly 88% of the respondents expressed confidence in the government’s capability to address the issue. However, contrary to the overwhelming confidence in the government’s capability, 65% respondents were not satisfied with the government’s performance in dealing with the drug menace.

As regards the role of the police, 91% respondents are having serious apprehension and reservations. Their perception is that due to rampant corruption and political pressure, police lacks seriousness in action and only take selective actions against the small-time drug suppliers, peddlers and drug consumers. In their view, the police often hesitate to catch the ‘big fish’, mainly because of the political patronage to the big smugglers and the unholy nexus between some political leaders, some police officials and the big smugglers of drugs.

What are the socio-economic and political implications of drug menace especially for Punjab being a border state?

Drug addiction and abuse impairs the socio-economic capacity and initiative of the drug addicts, their family members and that of society which eventually puts a drag on the economic development of the households, society and the country. It puts an unwanted financial burden on the families, society and the government thereby leading to adverse impact on governance, law and order and the health delivery system. It has far-reaching repercussions for internal and external security because of narco-terrorism. Punjab, being a border state and having strategic geo-political importance, can ill-afford such a threat to the country’s internal and external security. The drug menace has serious implications for the social, economic and political stability of the country.

What are the major recommendations of your study?

The drug menace is the manifestation of deep-rooted distortions in the socio-cultural and politico-economic system; as such the solution shall have to be systemic, multidimensional and multi-pronged.

In view of this, there is need for a holistic approach to address the issue rather than piece-meal and symptomatic solutions. Both preventive and curative measures shall have to be devised and implemented with a missionary zeal and in a missionary mode. Since the drug menace is an evolving phenomenon, there is need to adopt compatible policies, strategies and measures to address the issue.

There are three fundamental challenges: (i) to curb supply by breaking the supply chain and curb demand for drugs; (ii) to de-addict and rehabilitate the addicts and address relapsing which is very high; and (iii) to prevent the new-entry, especially that of teens, into drug-consumption. This would require short-term, medium-term and long-term policies at the state level, inter-state level and national level and their effective implementation.

Curbing supply of drugs involves both the external and internal sources of supply as drugs are being supplied from both the sources. This necessitates regional and global cooperation and sharing the real time data and information at the regional and global levels. The unholy nexus between police, smugglers and politicians must be acknowledged and broken. It would require higher level of socio-cultural and politico-economic consciousness and sensitivity on the part of the government, political leadership, police, bureaucracy, judiciary, civil society, and all other stakeholders.