Abuse of psychotropic drugs has been Punjab’s scourge for over two decades. Opium-based drugs, such as heroin and poppy husk, cannabis, and pharmaceutical sedatives, are the most abused narcotics in the state, according to the Magnitude of Substance Abuse in India report, released in February 2019.
An estimated 720,000 people needed help for opioid-related problems in Punjab in 2017-18, stated the same report by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, in collaboration with the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Around 570,000 needed help for cannabis-related problems, while 200,000 needed help for pharmaceutical sedatives-related problems, according to the report. Punjab also had the second-largest number of injecting drug users at 88,000, after Uttar Pradesh (100,000).
At 11,654 cases, Punjab had the second-largest number of cases registered under the Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS) in 2018, according to the latest available data from the National Crime Records Bureau. These constituted about 19% of all such cases registered countrywide.
But the lockdown may have changed that. As many as 129,000 individuals enrolled in 341 government and private de-addiction centres across Punjab over a span of 89 days, from March 23 to June 19, during the lockdown. The state government has claimed that these individuals constitute 24% of the 544,000 people who have sought de-addiction treatment in the state since 2017.
Doctors and social activists in the state believe the COVID-19-induced restrictions offer a golden opportunity for the administration to stem the state’s drug menace. “Movement restrictions have impacted drug supply, pushing addicts to seek treatment,” P.D. Garg, psychiatrist at Government Medical College, Amritsar, said. “If this strictness in law enforcement is maintained, the state can do well in its de-addiction programme.”
Data and text: National Crime Records Bureau, IndiaSpend