Two months after the Parkash Singh Badal government launched a massive drug de-addiction drive in the state on June 19, it is showing "withdrawal" symptoms.
Though still hundreds of addicts are pouring in for treatment, the number of new patients visiting OPDs of government drug de-addiction centres or getting admitted for treatment (IPD) has fallen to less than half in comparison to months of June and July.
According to the Punjab health department, between June 19 and 30, a total of 89,616 new patients had enrolled at government OPDs while 4,013 had been admitted for treatment. The numbers peaked in July when 1.12 lakh new patients visited government OPDs though just 2,277 were admitted for treatment. Till August 21 -- two months after the drive was launched -- the new patients' count has fallen to just 43,274 at OPDs while just 901 were admitted.
Among districts, Amritsar and Bathinda saw highest new patients - 30,360 and 25,574, respectively -- followed by Sangrur and Ludhiana.
However, these numbers, too, do not reflect the complete picture as the government has no count of addicts who have undergone or are undergoing treatment at private de-addiction centres. Just 52 private centres -- 43 psychiatry clinics and nine for de-addiction -- are registered with the Government Institute of Mental Health, Amritsar. These, too, have not sent their monthly reports on patients for the last two months following the sudden rush.
Both government and private psychiatrists are now warning that drug addiction should not be seen merely as a law-enforcement problem.
Terming drug addiction as a chronic disease with high chances of relapse, Dr Atul Ambekar, additional professor, National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre and Department of Psychiatry at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, says states should not try to control the menace through "brute force".
"We tend to see drug addiction as a condition like some epidemic that temporarily affects our society. Hence, the mindset of cleansing drives. We do not realise that problems like drug addiction cannot be suppressed just by brute force. If at all we manage some temporary reduction by law enforcement, the problems are going to resurface in different forms and shapes," Dr Ambekar said in an email to HT.
Calling for a holistic approach to deal with the drug problem, he said states like Punjab needed to deal with the menace through a three-pronged approach -- control supply (law-enforcement agencies should nab drug traffickers), reduce demand by promoting healthy living and improving access to treatment and facilities. "The state government should send a message that drug addiction is a treatable/manageable condition and improve its health services to be able to effectively cater to the needs of those affected. Third, there should be focus on harm reduction by preventing people from using needles and syringes to inject drugs. A balance of the three strategies is needed for the de-addiction drive to be a success," he added.
Government Institute of Mental Health, Amritsar, director, Dr BL Goyal says the drive has had positive results. "Chemist shops are no more giving these drugs without a prescription. The enforcement of laws has cut supply lines and brought lakhs to de-addiction centres. But the demand for narcotics, too, needs to be cut by addressing the underlying factors such as unemployment. Also follow-up of addicts is required so that a lapse (doing drugs again) does not result in a relapse," he said.
Dr Satyen Sharma, consulting psychiatrist at Patiala, attributes Punjab's woes to cultural acceptance of opiates for decades. "After the recent crackdown by the police on trafficking, several startling facts have come to light. The penetration of opiates cuts across all socio-economic barriers, with people from all walks of life now getting addicted to opium/bhukki and synthetic opiates.
"Bhukki (poppy husk) has also become an economic burden for the common farmhands with most of them spending thousands of rupees every month to feed this addiction. If a proper study is done on this drug, it would emerge as one of the major causes for the spate of debt-related suicides of farmers across the state," he added.
Where are missing numbers?
While surveys have put the numbers of drug addicts among Punjab's youth to seven out of 10 to four out of 10, the number of patients seeking treatment at government OPDs and IPD has barely touched the 2.5 lakh mark. Both psychiatrists and sociologists blame it on there being no credible survey to find the magnitude of the problem and no coordination between government and private institutes to deal with the menace.
New patients at govt OPD/IPD
June 19 to 30: OPD: 89,616; IPD: 4,013
July: OPD: 1,12,265; IPD: 2,277
August (till date): OPD: 43,274; IPD: 901