While even children in Punjab are falling prey to drugs such as heroin, the majority victims are its youth. Flocking to de-addiction centres because of a cut in supply and the fear of arrest during the state’s crackdown on dealers, they narrate how drugs flow freely into colleges, jails, villages and towns, killing both people and family values.
At a private clinic in Ludhiana, a teenager and his sister took treatment together for heroin addiction. The psychiatrist had dealt with cases where brothers or husband and wife had introduced each other to drugs but this was the first instance where a boy had made his sister an addict.
‘I GAVE HIM MOBILE, CLOTHES, CARS’
The boy, now 20, and his sister, 18, were pulled out of studies after the family found them stealing money. “My son was in a private engineering college near Ferozepur. I got him mobile phone, branded clothes and a car, yet he was caught stealing, and to get more money, even put his sister on drugs by telling her it will help her lose weight. We moved her to a boarding school but now we have made both quit studies and join treatment,” says their father, who is from Sunam.
Dr Rajeev Gupta, former head of psychiatry at the DMCH, Ludhiana, and consultant psychiatrist at this clinic, says heroin also destroys the addict’s moral values.
“Emotions, consequences and relations don’t move them. This boy had no guilt about destroying the life of his sister. Most addicts, however, are not from affluent families. They become small-time peddlers to make money for own consumption needs,” he says.
At the de-addiction centre of Guru Teg Bahadur Charitable Hospital in Ludhiana, psychiatrists and inmates narrate more tales of despair and horror. Addicts and members of their families queue up as early as 5am, as the number of patients has doubled to more than 200.
Psychiatrist Dr Pankaj Verma says the withdrawal symptoms of heroin range from severe body ache and abdominal pain to fits, watering of eyes, acute lethargy, irritation and bouts of rage. Some also show bizarre and self-harming behaviour. “An addict under our care said unable to afford drugs, he had started eating burnt lizards and snakes,” he remembers.
SWITCHING FROM SNIFFING TO SHOTS
In the group counselling session, addicts share their experiences. They won’t mind their names being quoted, “if it helps save lives”, as one of them puts it. “I sniffed heroin for the first time when I was sent to the Ludhiana central jail three years ago after a fight. I was just 20. Instead of being reformed, I came out a drug addict,” says Jasdeep Singh Harry, 23, who cannot even walk steady.
Iqbal Sidhu, who had enough money and no job after selling the family village land, started with sniffing 2-gram heroin. “It was costly, so I switched to injections. Half a gram gave me a high even before the syringe was out. I now have severe abdominal pain, shivering, sweating, fits of rage, if I don’t get two doses a day,” he says.
Simrat Singh, 22, was introduced to “heroine shots” by his college friends. “I could not afford it, so I switched to banned painkiller Tramadol. I popped 10 pills and started hitting the wall, unable to breathe. It is worse than heroin,” he says. Navneet Singh shows signs of remorse. “It is not only the addict but also the entire family that suffers. I had started taking five heroin injections daily for ? 10,000. After an argument at home one day, I drove to Kiratpur Sahib and pushed my car into a ditch,” he adds.
Hundreds queue up at the OPD but only a few can afford to pay Rs. 2,200 as room charges. “A week to 10 days of stay is only a beginning,” says psychologist Dr Tarlochan Singh.
‘STAY ON REFORM COURSE’
“Most addicts shift from sniffing heroin to injecting it within six months. The drug impairs their logical thinking, memory and other cognitive functions, taking them into a temporary phase of induced ecstasy. Youth aged between 18 and 20 do it for adventure and others to escape the family and work stress. De-addiction medicines are the first step to recovery but the addict has to continue the course and counseling and the family has to support and keep his motivation level high to prevent relapse,” he further says.