The growing problem of drug addiction, especially among youngsters, in the city has raised serious concerns and if not tackled soon, the situation will move out of the hand and engulf the youth.
The appalling number of drug addicts flocking to de-addiction centres this year alone testifies this fact. Moreover, not only opiates, the pain balms and synthetic drugs too are contributing to this growing menace.
One of the reasons of the increasing drug addiction could be easily available narcotics in the city and its surrounding areas owing to its proximity to the Pakistan border through which narcotics, particularly heroin, are pumped in the city that are susceptible to addiction.
Amritsar senior superintendent of police (SSP) (Rural) Gurpreet Singh Gill said in 2012, the Amritsar rural police had registered 476 cases under the NDPS Act and had been arrested 499 persons in this connection, while 682 cases were registered in 2012 and 702 persons had been apprehended.
Gill further said in 2012, the Amritsar rural police had recovered 3kg opium, 43 kg heroin, 231 gram smack, 142 intoxicating injections, 75 kg intoxicating powder and 1.85 lakh capsules; while in 2013, 14 kg opium, 150 kg heroin, 152 gram smack, 390 intoxicating injections, 56 kg intoxicating powder and 4.1 lakh capsules were recovered in different cases.
The damage caused by drug addiction could be judged by a visit to Maqboolpura (literally meaning a 'place of eminence'), but now notoriously known as 'locality of widows' after being devastated by rampant drug addiction. "Almost every house in the locality has a widow, while there are also families that have been completely ravaged by drug addiction," said Brij Bedi, president of the Citizens' Forum Vidya Mandir, an NGO, which runs a school in the locality for the children of drug addicts.
A look at the figures of the patients taking treatment at the government-run de-addiction centres reveal that as compared to last couple of years, the 2013 has seen a sudden surge in the numbers of drug addicts.
Terming the 2013 figures as extremely shocking, officials of the health department said the numbers were increasing steadily due to easy availability of narcotics in the city.
As against the modest figure of 173 patients in 2011; 3,667 patients took de-addiction treatment in 2012. However, in 2013, 23, 447 patients registered for the de-addiction treatment at government-run Swami Vivekanand Drug De-Addiction and Treatment Centre at Guru Nanak Dev Hospital
Head of the department of psychiatry Dr PD Garg, who also heads the de-addiction centre, said the centre was opened in 2011 to treat patients with drugs addiction.
He added that in 2011, 506 patients had approached the centre for the treatment, while this number rose to 817 in 2012. "In 2013, 937 patients directly came here for the treatment. This year alone, a total of 23, 447 patients have taken treatment here and have been completely cured of drug addiction," he said.
He also likened the drug addiction with contagious disease, which spreads from one person to another. "While drug addiction is in rife both in urban and rural areas, but the rural areas are slightly ahead in this regard," he said, adding that the centre was short of staff to deal with the increasing rush of patients.
"We have sent a requisition to the government to fill up the vacancies as soon as possible," said Dr Garg, adding that besides treatment, counselling was also offered to the patients and their families to help them bounce back to normalcy.
Who are prone to addiction?
According to Dr Garg, the addicts mainly belong to the age group of 15 to 40 years and comprise mainly males, though lately some females too are reported to have approached the centre for treatment. "More than 90% addicts are male, while around 2% are female," he said. Those seeking treatment mainly comprise:
* Criminals, who are often hard to handle
* Impoverished persons
Dr Garg said people initially take drugs as an experiment, but ended up getting hooked to it with disastrous results to their health.
Kinds of addictions
Balms used for curing cold, chest congestion and headaches
Ravages of drug addiction
According to the doctors, drug addiction can cause complications like HIV-AIDS, hepatitis, ulcers, epilepsy, dementia, depression, schizophrenia, lung cancer and cirrhosis of the liver (both caused by excessive consumption of tobacco), damage to the brain and often death.
Challenges in treatment
Though it is usually said that half of the problem is solved when an addict decides to give up drugs, giving treatment to a drug addict is certainly not a cake walk for a physician in view of the following challenges:
* Easy availability of narcotics
* Increasing dependence on synthetic drugs
* Chances of relapse
* Fear of losing sexual potency, boosted by drugs, and consequently, one's spouse or lover and the resultant desire to stay addicted
* Lack of staff to handle growing rush
* Illegal de-addiction centres that claim to cure patients, but lack the required staff, expertise and facilities