The state government did not take the drugs issue seriously, but the drubbing at the Lok Sabha elections made it to launch a swift action against it, and currently there are around one lakh people in the state getting treatment for addiction.
All state-owned and private drug de-addiction centres in the state are packed to capacity. The maximum drug patients -addicted to synthetic drugs -- are from Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Ludhiana, Gurdaspur, Jalandhar and Moga districts.
In Amritsar and Tarn Taran districts, the government figures of addicts have reached the five-digit mark. In Patiala and Jalandhar, the figures have crossed the 8,000-mark. Medicines are in short supply at some health centres.
Confirming this, health and family welfare minister Surjit Kumar Jyani told Hindustan Times that 70,000 people were taking medicines for drug deaddiction through outdoor patient departments in the state. The figure was till Thursday, he said. “Besides, around 1,200 addicts have been admitted to government drug de-addiction centres as they require immediate critical care. Some have kidney, liver and other problems because of prolonged addiction to synthetic drugs,” he added.
He said the health department had been told to gather data from private centres. Officials said all private de-addiction centres – around 250 to 400 in Punjab -- were full to capacity. There were around 20,000 people in them, while more than 5,000 were locked up in jails.
“Call it fear of police or what, everyone wants to be admitted to the de-addiction centres. I have told doctors to make priority lists, in which heroin and smack addicts would be given priority,” Jyani said, adding that those addicted to poppy husk would be low priority. He said the problem of shortage of medicines had been resolved at all hospitals. “We are committed to fighting the drug addiction,” he added.
The official figure of around 70,000 drug addicts at government centres has highlighted the magnitude of the drug problem in the state. It has also raised the question mark over the working of police, which is now working overtime to track drug smugglers and asking the addicts to go in for treatment. The police have so far dismissed nearly 50 policemen -- ranging from constable to DSP -- for hobnobbing with smugglers.
Ironically, the BJP, in a recent brainstorming session, had cited drug addiction as one of the major reasons for the poor showing by the alliance.
“Don’t say that the real magnitude has come to the fore now. It may be in the media, but I was well aware. The government was well aware of it. But it acted only when it met public anger and the worst drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections,” said Laxmi Kanta Chawla, senior BJP leader.
“One lakh patients means one lakh families are suffering. We need a prolonged strategy to save our youth. Now the government, by roping in NGOs and the private sector, should work on a two-year strategy to wipe out the problem, which has led to more deaths than terrorism,” she said, adding that the government should recruit psychiatrists and counsellors on a priority basis to provide the best treatment to addicts.