After unleashing a crackdown against the widespread narcotic drug menace in the state, the Punjab government is now grappling hard to deal with its ‘withdrawal symptoms’.
The medicine buprenorphine, prescribed to drug addicts during treatment to check withdrawal symptoms, has been found to be freely available, posing a serious threat to the campaign launched by the Punjab police against the drug abuse.
As per experts, if this drug is administered alone to addicts without the other combination of medicines, it would prove counter-productive and create more drug abusers than cure them.
A dossier prepared by the Punjab and central intelligence agencies has already expressed concern over the excessive use of buprenorphine tablets in Punjab. The dossier, which has also been forwarded to the Narcotic Control Board (NCB), warned the state government that if it failed to check the misuse of these tablets by the opiates it would negate the effect of crackdown against the drug abuse initiated by the Punjab Police in recent months.
The dossier said that in the recent times there has been a huge demand for buprenorphine tablets in Punjab, and doctors have been found prescribing this medicine, which is normally administered to patients at drug de-addiction centres.
“The drug is available on the streets in the form of strips. Though it has a printed rate of `370, it is being made available to addicts at `600 or more,” said the dossier.
Punjab health and family welfare director Karanjit Singh said he was aware of the problem. He said buprenorphine was given to addicts under the strict prescription of a doctor; it was given to patients with the combination of other medicines so that drug users could come out of the withdrawal symptoms while undergoing treatment till they were completely recovered.
“We have already directed all OPDs of drug de-addiction centres to keep a strict vigil on the prescription of this drug and how it should not be given to patients for more than five to seven days,” the director said.
Indian Association of Private Psychiatry, Punjab and Chandigarh, secretary Dr Satyen Sharma, when asked about the usage of buperinorphine in the cure of opiate dependence, and the reason for the drug increasingly coming into focus in Punjab, said buperinorphine was an internationally accepted treatment choice for opiate dependence in Europe, Australia and North America, and it had also been used by the state-run Oral Substitution Centre in Amritsar successfully for years.
As per government records, 27,000 drug peddlers have been booked by the police. It is natural that once the illicit drug becomes unavailable, there would be a rush of patients seeking treatment.
Intelligence agencies said that as per the national policy on narcotics, drugs and psychotropic substances, if anyone other than hospitals or centres set up or supported by the union/state governments distributed needles and syringes or drugs for oral consumption to addicts it would be treated as abetting consumption of drugs. The agencies told the NCB that the drug should be supplied only to designated de-addiction centres.