Baljit Singh, 65, a drug addict from Punjab who was arrested with 56 others on July 21 from Pilibanga town for carrying 144 kg of poppy husk, died in Hanumangarh district jail as he could not cope with his body’s opiate withdrawal reactions. At least eight others too are seriously ill after they stopped getting their daily dose of poison. But the jail authorities do not know what to do.
The arrested include 10 women, who had come to Rajasthan mostly from Punjab to buy doda from the black-market as the Rajasthan government closed down licensed poppy husk vends on March 31 this year on orders of the high court.
Withdrawal occurs when a person discontinues chronic use of opiates. And the body needs time to recover from the craving and reacts with symptoms like body ache, nausea, vomiting, cramps abdominal pain, diarrhoea.
The single-doctor dispensary at the district jail is not up to the job in dealing with withdrawal reactions.
Jail doctor Rajpal Godara said the period after one withdraws from poppy husk addiction was the most difficult.
“Pulse rate and heartbeat of the addicts shoot up and this could cause heart attack or kidney failure. Since most of the convicts are aged between 40 and 80 years, it is extremely hard for us to treat them with the minimal infrastructure that we have in the jail,” said the only doctor at the jail dispensary.
The dispensary is equipped to provide basic first-aid in the jail, which has 253 inmates against a capacity of 160, according to a data released by the Rajasthan prison department on November 30 last year.
“Nine addicts have fallen ill since Monday and one of them, Bathinda-resident Baljit Singh, died on Monday at Bikaner’s PBM Hospital while undergoing treatment for drug withdrawal symptoms. They have been addicts for more than 30 years and have difficulty living without their daily dose of poppy husk,” said Hanumangarh’s deputy jailer Raj Mahendra Bishnoi said.
Bishnoi said he wrote to the district health department on Wednesday to organise de-addiction camps for the addicts.
However, Hanumangarh chief medical and health officer (CMHO) Preet Mohinder Singh told HT there were currently no provisions for organising de-addiction camps inside jails since there were a lot of security concerns.
“We have de-addiction facilities at the town hospital and around 10 beds are available. The jail administration can send the convicts there,” the CMHO said.
Bishnoi said it would be extremely difficult from the jail authority to transport convicts outside the jail frequently and the facilities at the town hospital too were also not adequate to accommodate such a large group of addicts.
“The jail has just one ambulance and we use it to transport convicts both to the town hospital and PBM Hospital in Bikaner if an inmate is critical ill. Moreover, the 10 beds in the town hospital are not sufficient for these 57 people,” said Bishnoi.
With one dead and more and more inmates falling ill every day, the fate of the 56 addicts, mostly from Punjab, hang by a loose thread inside the jail.